In this year of multiple celebrity deaths, it would be easy to miss that of one from the sailing world, that of Paul Elvstrom, who died on December 7th aged 88. Whilst today we may think of Ben Ainslie as the World’s best, Elvstrom’s record speaks for itself: four consecutive Olympic Golds and eleven World Championships including those in seven different classes.
Alongside those achievements he revolutionised technical and sail developments as well as the approach to training at the top level. If you’ve ever read a book on the rules, it was either written or influenced by him. If you’ve ever used a self-baler, you owe that to him. The modern day kicker? Elvstrom again.
His first Olympic success came in 1948 at the London (Torquay for sailing) games, in the Firefly, as a single-hander, at the age of 20. After that the three other successes were all in the Finn, also Ben’s boat after the Laser. Unsurprisingly, he was a national hero in Denmark. Although he won no more Olympic golds after 1960, he continued to sail the Olympics, his last appearance being at age 56 in 1984, in a Tornado catamaran no less.
His influence on the the sport of sailing truly outshines that of any other. He will be much missed.
Phil Rayner (Dinghy Captain)