Editor David Glenn went to Weymouth to watch Ben Ainslie become the greatest Olympic sailor and to soak up more of the irresistible Olympic spirit
Could Seismic Sunday as Matt Sheahan dubbed it go down as
the greatest and most significant day in British sailing in recent years? Glory
for Ainslie (surely to become Sir Ben), a triumph for Weymouth and Portland,
and a fantastic demonstration of how sailing can indeed be a truly great
I watched first the Stars and then the Finns from the modest
concrete pier on the south side of Weymouth harbour positioned beneath the
Nothe, but within easy earshot of the 4500 strong, ticket-carrying crowd
screaming and roaring Ben on to glory. With the breeze coming in more from the
south, the race course was angled to provide a perfect view of the racing, the
committee boat straight in front of us and the weather mark easy to see.
A perfect, sunny summer’s day illuminated sails emblazoned
with national flags to keep the crowd firmly in the picture and all you needed
was a pair of binoculars and a basic understanding of how the medal races
worked to get full enjoyment.
Interestingly my iPad proved useless because although you
could access the excellent BBC coverage it was a full minute behind reality
which in this instance made the iconic piece of modern technology nothing more
than a history book.
No, this was a day to be there, witnessing history in the
making, soaking up the remarkable atmosphere in Weymouth, waving that flag and
celebrating with complete strangers as Ainslie delivered! Totally brilliant!
People I spoke to who had watched from the Nothe and who had
been at other Olympic sailing events said this was the best viewing they had
ever witnessed and of course for those on ‘Ben Nevis’ they had the real time
big screen to aid them in their viewing. “Excellently done up there, very well
organised, really well done,” enthused my contact…
But it wasn’t just the adrenaline rush of watching Ainslie
win and the agony of seeing poor Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson see gold
slip through their fingers in the last 200m of a very tough week-long regatta
that got the heart pumping. It was the whole Olympic experience.
On Friday night I’d been in the Olympic stadium in London to
see Jess Ennis start her bid for glory in the heptathlon and was secretly
dreading the prospect of heaving crowds, the transport delays we’d been
promised, the scarcity of (edible) food and drink and maybe even being rained
on in the stadium.
How wrong could (some) of the pundits have been. Everything
worked so smoothly, the massive volunteer force kept things moving, kept things
bright, kept things jolly. I even got to quite like the purple and pink Olympic
livery and as for that stadium and the Olympic Park – I have to say it brought
a tear to my eye as I walked into the that pounding, throbbing, magnificent
But what of Weymouth? Frankly, it was more of the same. Park
and Ride – superb. Weymouth – scrubbed up brilliantly. Big screen on the beach
– great alternative to the Nothe. Olympic volunteers – you just wanted to go
and hug one to say thank you!
We’re still at the start of the medal deciding process in
the sailing but already we know that the future of our sport will be affected
by what happened in Weymouth yesterday. Ben may never been seen at another
Olympic Games, at least in competition, but the legacy he and the current team
have already established mean that the next wave of young sailors is ready and
waiting on the dock. Now we need the next wave, and the next…
And if the IOC ever thought sailing was wanting as a
spectator sport I just hope they were there yesterday when it was proved beyond
any doubt that watching sailing can be one of the most riveting experiences.
And the BBC should be congratulated for exceptionally good coverage which makes
the sport understandable.What must now happen is to make greater efforts to
educate the public about the nuances of what happens on a race course, about
tactics and about the way mother nature – ie the wind and water – will always
be the final arbiter in a sailing race. Which is what makes it so brilliantly
unpredictable and challenging. Don’t miss ANY of the sailing this week. Enjoy!