Iain Murray becomes an Olympian at 50

Aug. 08, 2008, 2:04 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) He's sailed in two America's Cup campaigns and won numerous world titles on the water. Now Australian Iain Murray can add the Olympics to his career highlights.

It's a much different Murray who lost the America's Cup to Dennis Conner 21 years ago.

At age 50, Murray has lost 25 kilograms (55 pounds) in the past several months under the direction of nutritionists at the Australian Institute of Sport. He'll sail in the Star class with crewmate Andrew Palfrey, who is also making his Olympic debut at age 41.

"I guess I'm not a typical Olympian, but I've decided to rejuvenate myself," Murray on Friday said about his weight loss.

"I've been on sailing teams for what seems like 100 years, and everyone has had a go at me," Murray said. "So I've done lots of cardio, and found that what's important is when you eat, and I don't eat as much as I used to."

Murray and Palfrey finished eighth in the Star Class world championship off Miami in April, and ninth the previous year. Murray missed out on selection for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

The Aussie skipper is probably best-known for being at the helm of Kookaburra III when it failed to defend the America's Cup in 1987 off Fremantle, Australia. Determined to win back the Cup he'd lost in a stunner to John Bertrand four years earlier, Conner led at every mark during a four-race sweep.

Murray, 28 at the time, became just the second skipper in history to lose the oldest trophy in international sports.

Murray taught himself to sail at age 9 and won his first national title four years later in a Cherub class boat he designed and built himself. His world titles include six consecutive championships in 18-foot skiffs between 1977 and 1982.

He said conditions at the Olympic sailing venue of Qingdao on China's east coast have improved, but he still has concerns over the lack of wind.

The sailing site was plagued by an algae bloom, which local officials called a "natural disaster" that covered one third of the course. Fog and bad weather also plagued the fleet of early sailors that trained over the past two months.

"There's no more green, it's all just nice blue water that is pretty clean," Murray said. "After the fogs, storms and algae, all we need is a bit of wind."

Murray said historically, the Qingdao district has light winds. A minimum of five-knot winds are needed to start a race.

"But what makes things more difficult are the strong currents," Murray said. "It's the rise and fall of the tides, and if the breezes are light and the tide is strong, it makes it very difficult to set a course."

Regardless of the conditions, Murray is pleased to be sailing at his first Olympics.

"It's a very special thing," said Murray. "I've done American's Cup, world championships, Sydney to Hobarts. But this is something that I've worked harder at than anything I have ever done."