As the Olympic and Paralympic Games venue for sailing; the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy in Dorset has experienced a unique and unforgettable few years in the run up to and during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Now that the Games are over and the Olympic legacy is in full swing, this is the time to look back and reflect on the pre games training and preparation which enabled our British Olympians to compete on a global level.
With fantastic results achieved in 2012 and an impressive collection of gold medals being won and presented to the world’s top sailors at the iconic waterside venue, it is easy to be swept along in the celebrations and forget the hard work and pure dedication that went into preparing not only the venue, but the competitors themselves for the greatest show on earth.
The celebrated sailing destination began helping create Olympic champions years before the words Beijing and London Olympics had been uttered. Developed to take advantage of some of the best small boat sailing waters on the planet, the WPNSA has provided an unrivalled location for training and sailing competitions for a great number of years. The combination of clean winds, sheltered waters and weak tides in the area is unique, and the world class facility set in the centre of the Jurassic Coast provided the perfect training venue in the run up to the Olympic Games.
The success of the WPNSA began early when it became the first 2012 venue to be completed and with 3 years to spare. Completed in November 2008; the Academy played a crucial part in the overall success of the London Olympics 2012, and the number of medals the British Sailing Team won. The British Sailing Team finally won a total of 5 Olympic and 2 Paralympic medals in the waters of the Academy; including 2 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze. The impressive medal haul illustrated how the preparation of the sailors at the Academy had been essential to their final results.
However, the Academy had been assisting preparation of Olympic sailors for many years prior to the Olympics; having had the honour of witnessing and nurturing the emerging talent of young British sailors as they undertook their training schedules and entered into the competitive, and then professional sailing world. One such young sailor was the now Sir Ben Ainslie CBE, the most successful sailor in Olympic history. Ainslie began sailing in the waters of his native Cornwall at a very young age and would later be a frequent visitor to the WPNSA, undertaking his Olympic training at the now iconic venue.
Ainslie pays his compliments to the Academy: “WPNSA is home to some of the best sailing waters in the world and there is tough competition to gain this status. The highest profile sailors in the world have competed at WPNSA and the venue itself has showcased one of the most watched global events. I have sailed on these waters since I was racing youth classes and the WPNSA is a great improvement upon the facilities I used back then. The new generation getting out on the water have a very bright future and a first rate sports venue readily available to them that represents such a great opportunity. I have no doubt the venue will go on to host a raft of quality sailing events as it is now firmly on the map as a premiere location to compete. Personally I will never forget winning my Olympic Gold medal in front of a home crowd and on waters so familiar to me.”
Now also a member of the Board of Directors for the WPNSA, Ainslie will continue to play a role at the centre which supported him throughout his sailing career and Olympic campaigns. He is not the only Gold medallist to sing the praises of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, as Paralympic Gold Medallist Helena Lucas MBE also trained from the Academy for a number of years before and during her Olympic campaign. Lucas won gold in 2012 in the 2.4mR event.
Lucas has great compliments for the WPNSA: “Winning gold on home waters in Weymouth and Portland was an amazing experience, the home support is something I will never forget and it spurred me on tremendously. Training and competing at WPNSA throughout my preparation certainly contributed to my result and I will always love sailing here. The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is an unbeatable venue for disabled sailors with new, purpose built, facilities. For example, there are disabled access hoists on the pontoons, providing the safest access to tidal waters for people with disabilities anywhere in the UK. I don’t know of any other sailing venue where the needs of sailors of all abilities are so well catered for.”
Sir Ben Ainslie CBE and Helena Lucas MBE are two fantastic sailors who will now be forever known as champions in their sport; they both praise the WPNSA for the quality of its facilities for disabled and able bodied sailors and the fantastic waters which surround the venue. A combination of which, led to outstanding results from the British Sailing Team in the summer of 2012.
Nevertheless, it was not only Team Great Britain who performed outstandingly during the sailing Olympics and Paralympics; with competitors from across the globe winning medals in British waters. A key to the success of both the British Olympic and Paralympic sailors and the international sailors was the ability for them to access and train in the Olympic waters before the Games began; reaping the benefits of this fantastic advantage. The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy was the first Olympic sailing venue to open to international competitors prior to the Games since Kiel in 1972; by operating in such a way this created a level playing field for competitors, with the final sailing competition higher than ever.
During this period WPNSA hosted sailors from Italy, USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, Sweden, Holland, Argentina, Denmark and Russia to train at the Academy pre Games. Having these teams on site, some of which were for a number of years prior to the Games, brought a great international feel to the Academy and the wider Weymouth & Portland area.
The Australian Olympic Sailing Team commented: “We spent a lot of time at WPNSA in the years leading up to the Olympic Games. The ability to train from and familiarise ourselves with the Olympic venue as we prepared for the Games was a definite plus. The setup there was great and easy to operate from, the facilities are second to none in the UK and the people were always friendly and helpful.”
The WPNSA played a truly essential part in training and assisting all Olympic and Paralympic sailors in both the 2012 Games and in the years leading up to the event; without the Academy, its excellent facilities and second to none waters the British Sailing Team may not have achieved such admirable results.