Elite sailors come in all different packages of personalities. By and large the top end of our sport has some gems but don’t expect to see personalities of the Dennis Conner/Tom Blackaller/Ted Turner variety, fuelled by perhaps one too many, poking and digging each other with rivalries and beefs that go back decades surfacing in an explosion of ugly recrimination. No, today’s elite athletes are highly professional. Dull you might say, I couldn’t possibly comment, but the very best are terrific role models to the next generation and fine ambassadors for the sport.
The usual pathway for the very, very best can, on occasion, lead to a superior air, a forced manner, a sense of where they are in life, culture and the sport. The pro-ranks is a slippery, greasy, uncompromising pole where who you know and who you’re in with, dictates the next ride and the surety of a pay cheque.
Hang a gold medal around your neck and you’re on a very different trajectory – and it happens rapidly. For some, it goes to their heads. For others, they double down and go again and I have to say I hugely admire those that do. Whether you reach the Elvstrom / Ainslie / Robertson / Mills / Scheidt / Slingsby (I could go on) peak of sporting endeavour matters little, but going again after you’ve climbed Everest and achieved a gold medal takes courage, guts and fortitude.
Getting your head around starting out again on the circuit after a memorable, be-medalled Olympic run is tough both mentally and physically but for us voyeurs of the Games, it’s fascinating to witness.
And very much ‘going again’ is Britain’s sailing royalty in the form of Eilidh McIntyre and it’s a story that I just can’t take my eyes off. Eilidh moved firmly out of her gold medallist (in the Star no less) father, Mike McIntyre, when she famously scooped the gold at Tokyo 2020 in that thrilling medal race with Britain’s greatest female Olympian, Hannah Mills. I still think about those onboard comms that were captured by the GoPro as they aced to that medal – it should be played to every aspiring youth sailor – as Mills forced that 470 to golden glory with a willpower that is just remarkable, goading and cajoling Eilidh along to record something very, very special in our sport.
The top of the world suited Macintyre just fine. She’s a remarkable individual and since Tokyo she’s been a fabulous ambassador, popping up at boatshows, doing awards ceremonies, visiting local clubs, trips to Parliament and even appearing on Mastermind no less. But the story to follow is her re-appearance in the now gender-diverse mixed 470, sailing with Martin Wrigley and hanging off that wire for all she’s worth. One thing I can say about Eilidh is that she’s refreshingly honest to her followers and this is what marks her out, in my book at least, as the most compelling ‘one to watch’ in the lead up to the Games of Paris 2024. Have a read of her update on Instagram today:
Tough few days for us in Palma, in my attempt to share the good and the bad, here’s the low-down for anyone following along our struggle:
Race 1: we capsized hoisting the kite and it wrapped around the spreader, we were hundreds of metres behind once we sorted it.
Race 2: was actually a good race but we were pretty nervous about another capsize which would have ruined our chance of making gold fleet and played it too safe and lost quite a few points.
Race 3: absolute lemons (emoji) – broke the golden rule, do not be over the line when windy!
Race 4: our only good race!
It’s also bloody freezing, we’re currently postponed and I’m sat by a fire eating hot chocolate.
Now that my friends, is honest. That’s showing us and putting us all in the picture of just how tough it is to win and the fine margins that separates outright success from mid-fleet. What I like is that not only is Eilidh honest with us, she’s brutally honest with herself and that is the difference between the very good and the rest of us.
She’s a star. She’s a bright shining star and a pleasure to follow on this campaign. I’m rooting for Eilidh and Martin and I just want them to succeed but this cycle, without doubt, is going to be super tough. The real flyers for the Brits are the brilliant Vita Heathcote sailing with Ryan Orr and this is a talent that has been coming through the youth ranks for a while. I used to sail against her mother in 420’s when we were teenagers and let’s just say, Vita comes from very good, almost peerless, sailing stock. Tough call for the selectors but a long, long road ahead.
And I have to say a word about the mixed 470’s – I’ve long been a critic of the boats themselves (“glorified bath tubs” was a memorable, if harsh, line of mine) but having them mixed is a huge step forward from those glory days of 1984 when Cathy Foster first shattered the Olympic glass ceiling as a helm. Nowadays the decision to have a male helm/female crew or female helm/male crew is down to the crews and that’s brilliant for the sport – it makes you wonder why we didn’t think of this years ago. Maybe we did. Well done to World Sailing for nailing this. I think it’s brilliant and correct.
The Olympic cycle is well and truly underway. I’m picking my ones to follow and I’m spoilt for choice in the British ranks. The RYA, under the absolutely sublime steerage of Ian Walker is picking winners right across the squad. Picking the final representatives for Paris 2024 is one monumentally nice headache to have as real talent is rising. Tomorrow’s superstars, the Macintyre’s and Heathcote’s (and a host of others) are great to watch. The Olympic struggle is as tough as ever. Sailing is in safe hands.
Who said sailing is dead?