At the free Live Site on Weymouth beach, it was difficult to know which was the biggest spectacle. Ahead, Ben Ainslie on two giant screens doing what he does best – securing a gold medal, seemingly against the odds. Behind, a relieved sea of people waving flags and cheering.
It’s a big bit of beach. You couldn’t see any of it. And beyond, yet more people, those unable to get into the Live Site after it reached its 15,000 capacity, lining the promenade for their own share in the historic moment when Ben became the world’s best ever Olympic sailor.
With two children aged three and eight, we’d bagged our spot on the beach early – close to the sea, a few rows back from the live coverage on screen. The kids could play and paddle while the grown-ups watched Iain Percy and Bart Simpson sail for their Star medal and then Ben in the Finn.
It soon became clear the children would need to build some serious sandcastles to defend our patch. It was a bit like being on a tube train in London. Just when you thought that surely no-one else could possibly fit, more squeezed in. By the time of the medal racing our sandcastles were under siege and we could no longer see the sea, although our nimble eldest child did manage to pick her way through legs and beach towels to cool off in the waves, in between medal races in the blazing sun.
Iain and Bart and Ben certainly put the crowd through it. At times there was hush. Or heads in hands as no-one dared look. Sometimes hope. Ultimately, red white and blue, cheers and smiles. A silver and a gold from a glittering day on the beach.Our next spectator spot was the Nothe gardens and while the children climbed trees, windsurfer Nick Dempsey secured his silver medal – we were outside the blue barriers of the ticketed Nothe, but right there in front of us was the windward mark! And watching from the hillside gardens with the rest of us mere mortals? Supporting their teammate, with time for a chat and photos with well-wishers, were Laser Olympic sailor Paul Goodison and Iain Percy.
For the 470 men’s medal race, the plan was to have feet and both children in a rock pool in Newton’s Cove, to watch Luke Patience and Stu Bithell bring home at the very least another GBR silver medal. Sun shining, sea sparkling, race course just there, it was all looking good apart from the breeze. The kids might have had their heads in buckets looking at crabs, shrimps and fishes, but their parents and grandparents were unmistakably looking out to sea for signs of wind. It wasn’t to be.
So next day everyone was back again, for the rescheduled men’s 470 medal race and then the women’s. This time Team Irish hit the shore-side path between Newton’s Cove and the ticketed Nothe. Specatators sprawled from the top of the steep gardens right down past the rocks to a dog and its owner on a surfboard in the sea. With the breeze direction requiring a windward mark out to sea and without the BBC commentary of the beach Live Site or the ticketed Nothe, everyone made friends and those with iPhones helpfully filled in the gaps.As an Australian couple toasted their 470 men’s gold, sportsmanship reigned.
Congratulations went to them and the Brits took pride in another silver. Then it was 470 girls Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, likewise unable to convert to gold, but it was another silver, and yet more to celebrate.
And what a showcase for sailing it was. While many of those watching were sailors, plenty more were simply drawn there by the spectacle and the chance to be a part of it. And like the sport itself, they found that regardless of money or even a ticket, anyone could join in and enjoy sailing.
Next up: Paralympics
You might have missed the Olympics, but there's still the Paralympics to come... running from September 1-6, 2012... so pack your buckets and spades and get down there!