The winner of the Special Award at the YJA Yachtsman of the Year Awards is the Royal Yachting Association's Olympic Manager Stephen Park (aka 'Sparky'). The timing of the award feel particularly appropriate as Sparky has just stepped down from his post to concentrate on a new challenge, a move to the sport of cycling.

Sparky has been an integral part of Team GB’s success in Olympic sailing for the past 20 years. As head of the British Sailing Team for his fourth successive Olympic Games this summer, the straight-talking Scot brought back two golds (see Giles Scott wins gold with a day to spare and Gold for Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark) and one silver medal (see Nick Dempsey: silver medal at the Rio Olympics).

After campaigning in the 470 and Tornado catamaran classes in the 1990s, Sparky joined the RYA and went to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games as a coach, helping Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks to a silver medal in the 49er skiff class. Sydney was a breakthrough Games for British sailing, the three gold medals and two silvers making sailing Britain’s most successful Olympic sport that year. That success has continued ever since, with five medals at Athens 2004, six at Beijing 2008 and five at London 2012. Read our 2016 Olympic Games interview with Sparky here.

The sailing medals from Rio (two gold medals and one silver might) have been less numerous than recent Olympics, but they were still enough to put Britain at the top of the Olympic Sailing medal table - an indication of how the level of competition has moved up a notch worldwide. Sparky's impact on Olympic sailing should not be underestimated and his shoes will be rather large ones to fill.

RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park, aka Sparky.

RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park, commonly known as 'Sparky'. Photo Andre Bittencourt/British Sailing Team.

The Special Award was announced in Hamble, where a special presentation was made to Sparky as he retired from his post. The award follows the announcement of the 2016 YJA Yachtsman of the Year Awards in London, where the winners of the 2016 YJA Yachtsman of the Year and Young Sailor of the Year were announced.

Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.