John Shaw won Australian championships in 1964 and 1965 and in 1969 finished second in the world Dragon class championships in Majorca. Then, accompanied by John Cuneo and Tom Anderson finished second in the 1972 Australian championships, then narrowly won the Olympic selection trials.
More than 700km away from the hub of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Australia’s sailing team made their own strong contribution to the nation’s Olympic history. The sailors scored an unprecedented two gold medals for Australia.
After arriving in Europe for the Games, the Dragon crew took part in regattas in Denmark and at Travamundi, near the border of East and West Germany, with only average results.
As they worked to tune ‘Wyuna’ for the Olympic series, they had some tryouts against the Canadian and New Zealand boats, and found that their boat was simply too slow. When the Canadian skipper outfitted his craft with new sails, he offered the old ones to Cuneo. The offer was promptly accepted, and at the same time the Australians tried out a new headsail. With some more adjustments, the boat was ready.
She began magnificently, winning the first three heats. Then came a disastrous performance in the fourth race, which Cuneo later explained. “The problems started when we decided to sail conservatively so as to consolidate our position, not taking risks. We tacked before we should have and sailed back into the fleet where we felt our main competitors were. We got buried and were never able to recover, finishing nineteenth.” The fifth race was abandoned on a windless day when none of the boats were able to complete the course, and in the next heat the Australians finished third. By the last race all they needed to do was finish the race, remain un-disqualified, and finish eighteenth or better. They stayed close to the front all the way, and finished fourth. “I knew we had the gold medal in the bag after we’d gone 100yds” Cuneo later said. “It was a piece of cake”. They won gold, 28 points ahead of the East Germans.
David Forbes and John Anderson won the other Australian gold medal in the Star class on the same day.
Shaw continued his winning streak with the 1973 Queensland Dragon championships, and won two Australian lightweight Sharpie championships. He was a member of the Australian crew that sailed in the 1974 America’s Cup on the ‘Southern Cross’.