On the biggest day for Olympic sailing spectators the grand experiment was a success
The roar that went up when Ben Ainslie crossed the finish line to claim his fourth gold medal was proof enough that the experiment to make sailing a ticketed Olympic had been a stunning success.
For the 4,500 crowd, things could not have gone better. Bright sunshine, no sign of rain, commentary from Andy Green and Hannah White who know a thing or two about working crowds up into a frenzy and a slab of entertainment that was both unique and momentous.
There was the anticipation of seeing Britain’s best sailors in action against the best in the world, both of them with a great chance of winning though everyone seemed to grasp how difficult it would be.
Most of the crowd on the Nothe, it seemed were sailors from Hamble or Lymington who took one look at the course and said…oh crikey.
It was squashed into a tiny area in Weymouth Bay with shifts that were almost impossible to read. Fantastic for the folk on the Nothe who could reasonably expect some drama but a bit of a nightmare for the sailors who had little idea what to expect the inevitable round of happiness and heartache.
When Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson came onto the track, there was a ripple of excitement and all the time, they were ahead of the Brazilians Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada, there was an expectation of victory. No one really noticed the Swedes stealing their thunder until the final few moments when it suddenly went quiet on the Nothe.
And then the confirmation that the Gold was lost. Stunned silence. No one knew what to make of it but recovery was swift and after a short break for pizza and fizz we celebrated the silver medal and regrouped for the Ben v Jonas show. When Ainslie was announced, the crowd went completely bonkers, rising instantly to their feet and chanting ‘Go Ben, Go Ben’ amid a sea of flags and union jacks.
We lived and breathed the race with Ben, cheering when he made gains and cheering even louder when we were told to by the commentators who felt the extra noise might help flagging spirits.
But there was no need for that. When the Dutchman Pieter Jan Postma was finally squeezed out of contention, his mum Eneke who had been watching all week was devastated but the rest of the hill rejoiced.
It was the most amazing atmosphere, rarely witnessed in sailing where fans got to support their heroes at close hand and enjoy their success as with as much exuberance and noise as they could muster. Suddenly sailing was a spectator sport and a gripping one at that.
If ISAF or IOC were looking to see if the decision to make sailing a ticketed sport had worked, they had their answer in those scenes on the Nothe. Fantastic action, wonderful weather, brilliant view, unbelievable atmosphere and some memories that will live with some of us forever.