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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | BILL PLASCHKE

Nine-Time Olympian Puts Wind in Austria's Sails

July 22, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE

ATLANTA — Olympic history is where you find it, and where you can find it today is in the rolling whitecaps off lovely old Savannah.

It will be the one wearing the Gilligan hat.

His name is Hubert Raudaschl. His country is Austria.

His beer is Zipfer, judging from the vats of the stuff that were downed by countrymen at a recent party in his honor. A breakfast party.

The moment Raudaschl's 22-foot keelboat hits the Atlantic Ocean today, he will be the first man in history to have competed in nine Olympic Games.

He says it is 10. He counts the 1960 Games in Rome, where he qualified as an alternate but never left the dock.

Olympic historians insist it is nine. They say you can't simply show up and be considered an Olympian, otherwise the record would be shared by several T-shirt salesmen and a pickpocket.

Anyway, nine will still be the most ever, covering an amazing 32 years, beginning in Tokyo and hopefully ending right-side up.

All of which greatly irritates a couple of Italian horseback riders and two other sailors, one from Denmark and the other from the Bahamas.

They shared the old mark with Raudaschl until that fateful day this spring when, for the ninth consecutive quadrennial, he had this inspirational thought.

"What the heck. How many other Austrian sailors are there?"

So he teamed with a rookie named Andreas Hanakamp to qualify as his country's entry in yachting's Star division. And here he is, 53, a gray and respected civic leader, a history-maker with one problem.

Part of that history is that in 32 years he has won only two medals.

Both silver.

Only one in an Olympics that did not involve a boycott.

Raudaschl hasn't finished in the top five in a full-scale Olympics in nearly three decades.

Four years ago in Barcelona, he and his partner finished 20th of 26 boats.

But he has since figured out the problem.

"I trained too much," he said. "Way too much preparation."

Our kind of guy.

"That will not happen this year," he said. "This year, I spend much less time in a boat,"

About 60-70 days on the water, he said. Not even twice a week.

"That is why Hubert has been around so long," said Hanakamp, 30. "He believes that with too much training, you lose your motivation."

Not to mention, it can get boring.

Hanakamp says Raudaschl has another secret.

"He does well because he makes the sails," Hanakamp said.

This is true. Raudaschl, like his father, is a well-known shipbuilder in the quaint Alpine village of St. Gilgen, previously known as That Tourist Joint Where They Filmed "The Sound Of Music."

Today, friends say it is known as Hubertville. Or something like that.

He is as popular in Austria as Franz Klammer, Thomas Muster or Maria Von Trapp. He was chosen to lead his country's campaign against smoking. Even his own governor says he could be elected governor.

Not bad for a sailor living 300 miles from the nearest sea.

"He is a role model in our country," said Martin Uitz, director of the Salzburg State Board of Tourism. "He is a sportsman in the true sense of the word."

At least in the sense of the words that say, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how often you show up."

Not that the road to mediocrity hasn't been marked with adversity.

Rope holding Raudaschl's sail once broke during Olympic competition. But his teammate happened to be his brother, who didn't mind climbing up the mast to fix it during the race.

Then there were the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where Raudaschl and teammate Karl Ferstl would have won the gold medal except they were penalized for allegedly cheating during a race in which they finished first.

Cheat? Hubert? If he is a cheat, he sure is a lousy one.

"All I know is that the Swedish protesters' main witness was the Russians," Raudaschl said. "And guess who won the gold."

Nine Olympics, and at least Hubert Raudaschl can say he has never gone overboard.

"The way some of these boats are built, it's difficult to turn them over," he explained.

Nine Olympics, and he's still afloat, which says as much about his country as himself.

"Thank God I was born in Austria," he said. "We don't have many sailors, and we have stayed neutral through all the boycotts. If I was in the United States, I would have gone to maybe four Olympics."

But about that Gilligan hat.

"I am never seen without that hat," Raudaschl said. "I have many of them."

He does not know the hat's American significance or symbolism. But he was not wearing it Friday when he carried the flag for the Austrian contingent.

Normally such a flag-bearing honor would be bestowed upon the best performer in the previous Olympics. But Raudaschl's Austrian teammates figured he has been hanging around too long to ignore.

"I think I'll be OK," Hubert Raudaschl said bravely last week. "The flag is not very heavy, and you don't have to walk very far."

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