A brilliant Olympic experience
- Mon, 6 Aug 2012
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 spectator sport.
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 arena.
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!