POSTED: September 9th 2015

NEIL WILSON: Olympic sailing to a distant horizon

The Olympic sailing venue at Tallinn, Estonia was built for the Moscow Games in 1980, 633 miles from the host city / Bigstock Telia
The Olympic sailing venue at Tallinn, Estonia was built for the Moscow Games in 1980, 633 miles from the host city / Bigstock Telia

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Ben Ainslie's gold medal in 2012, his third in consecutive Olympic Games, was an occasion for national rejoicing in Britain. Scribes jumped on trains at London's Waterloo station to make the three and a half journey to Weymouth to record the event.

It was one of those rare occasions when Olympic sailing became a national interest which warranted recording and celebrating by the written press in Britain. More commonly the sport is an afterthought, an event worthy of coverage only for the exceptional feat by one of your own nationals.

This week the Paris 2024 bid committee made an announcement that Marseille would be the venue for sailing that it would proffer to the International Olympic Committee for its regatta if its bid to host is successful.

France's third largest city, it has been a port since Phoenician times, a magnificent setting for sailing and with a marina much accustomed to hosting regattas. It is also 465 miles from Paris which, by car, is a journey of more than seven hours and more than three hours even on France's high speed rail network.

That is one of sailing's great problems at Olympic Games. So often it is out of the media's mind because it is out of sight. Incredibly a distance of 465 miles from the host city is by no means a record.

In 1980 the sailing at the Moscow Games was in Tallin, a distance of 633 miles which needed a car journey of more than 12 hours and was in a different country, Estonia. In 1972 sailing for the Munich Games was in Keil, a distance of more than 500 miles and a journey then of more than 8 hours.

Sailing has featured most prominently at Olympic Games when it has been close to the central action. A classic Olympic regatta was in 2000 when it took place in Sydney's own harbour. Similarly in 2004 in Athens and in 1992 in Barcelona.

I well remember being called in my hotel room in downtown Athens by my London newspaper with the instruction to get to the marina where a British crew had crossed the finish line to win a gold medal a day earlier than anticipated. It took me just 20 minutes by cab and I arrived before the three ladies had even moored their craft to receive reporters' questions.

Proximity is the cross Olympic sailing bears. Marseille may be a great venue but it is a bit off the map. Undoubtedly Los Angeles and Hamburg will offer something only a cab ride away.

Not that it is a matter that will influence the minds in 2017 of too many voting members of the IOC. Just one in a 100 or so of them - Barbara Kendall, of New Zealand - competed in the Games as a sailor.  Not much influence on the vote there, then.   

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics · sailing · Neil Wilson

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