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Sailing Team History

In the spring of 1924 a group of yachtsmen from the Yacht Racing Association of Lake Ontario decided to hold a special competition. The purpose of the event was to select a sailor who could represent Canada at the Olympics in Paris that summer. This was the beginning of Canada's Olympic sailing effort.

While sailing had been an official part of Olympic competition since 1912, it was not until 1924 that Canada entered a team. Under the auspices of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club of Toronto, a committee conducted trials in the grey, still-frigid waters of Lake Ontario. The trials consisted of four series with ten competitors form five clubs taking part. Eventually, Norman Robertson of Hamilton emerged to win the finals and the right to go to Paris and represent Canada in the single-handed class.

Racing on the Seine at Meulan that July, Robertson finished seventh out of 17 nations in each of the two series that formed the basis of competition. It was a respectable first outing, but not surprisingly, he was eliminated from medal contention. Far more important than his standing, though, was the fact that Robertson's effort had finally broken the ice and Canada had officially entered the world of Olympic sailing.

While the name of Norman Robertson will always stand in the annals of Canadian yachting as our first Olympic sailor, Canada's first team effort dates to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. It was in that year that the Canadian Yachting Association (CYA) was formed and, under its aegis and inspiration, Canada sent crews to compete in the Six Metre, Eight Metre, Star and Olympic Monotype classes. Fleets in those pre-war years were considerably smaller than today's and it was only in the Star and Monotype classes that a truly international field competed. H.E. Wylie was Canada's Star skipper and Reg Dixon sailed the single-handed Snowbird dinghy. Wylie's final standing was fourth out of seven boats and Dixon's placed fifth out of 11. For an Association barely off the ground, these results were more than simply creditable.

The 1936 Olympics, held against the sinister backdrop of Hitler's Berlin, are today notable primarily for the great Jesse Owen's triple gold medal performance in track and field event. In sailing the largest fleet of sailboats ever seen at an Olympics gathered at the Baltic seaport of Kiel. The stage was set for some brilliant displays of yachtsmanship, but sadly, as with several other events, sailing fell prey to dispute and acrimony stemming from the heightened political conditions of the day.

The 1948 Olympics in Torbay, England are generally considered the first at which sailing really came into its own as a sport. This is certainly true for Canada. With the lessons of the pre-war years behind them, the Canadian team was prepared to give its best shot yet.

Sailing in the Firefly, Star and Swallow classes, Paul McLaughlin, John Robertson and Bill Gooderham tallied fifth, seventh and eight-place finishes, respectively. The fleets for each class were large and the standings helped to garner new recognition for Canada's sailing effort at home and abroad.

In the next two Olympics, Canada continued its solidly impressive performance. Paul McLaughlin, who had acted as team manager in 1948, again led the team to a strong finish in 1952. In 1956, Bruce Kirby (later to design the Laser and Canada 1 & 2) in the Finn class and Dave Howard in the Dragon class, sailed Canada to sound finishes in Melbourne, Australia. As Canada competed in each successive Olympics, the team learned more and more about the practical advantages of alternate crew, proper management and coaching.

While the Canadian sailing team and the CYA have always had the winning of Olympic medals as their foremost goal, they have also emphasized participation in the numerous international regattas that preceded each Olympics. These regattas serve as a way of selecting the best crews for the Olympic competition team and allow the crews to hone their competitive skills against other world-class sailors. In 1959, Canadian sailing received a great boost when Walter Windyer of Toronto won the World Dragon Championships in Denmark. It was an accomplishment that presaged great things for Canada in the 1960 Olympics. Sadly, Windyer fell ill just prior to the regatta in Italy and was not able to compete. He died shortly afterwards and although his place on the team was filled admirably by Sandy McDonald (who finished fifth out of 27 countries); the loss to the team and to sailing generally was keenly felt. The inspiration of Windyer's success led to increased encouragement for Canadian sailors at home.

On the Olympic front, medals were still elusive despite continued strong showings by Canadian crews. In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Sandy McDonald sailing in the 5.5 metre class skippered his crew to a seventh place finish. The Tokyo Games also saw the first Olympic appearance of Vancouver's Dave Miller in the Star class. Miller also placed seventh in his class, but this finish was a prelude to greater accomplishments in the years ahead.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Canada for the first time arrived equipped with alternate crew, complementary staff and spare boats - the kind of things the team needed all along to stay on par with other nations. The results were indicative of this stronger emphasis on organization and technical preparation: Steve Tupper of Vancouver sailed to a fourth place finish in the Dragon class, Roger Green turned in a strong performance in the Flying Dutchman and Stan Leibel placed sixth in the 5.5 Metre class.

All the while the Canadian sailing team had been competing at the international level; the CYA had been working behind the scenes to create a national sailing program in the yacht clubs across the country, developing young sailing talent and fostering the growth of the sport. In 1972 this work paid off. Dave Miller, the promising young Star sailor from Vancouver, along with Paul Cote and John Ekels sailed a Soling to Canada's first Olympic medal in sailing. With their bronze medal win, Canadian sailing may be said to have truly arrived on the international scene. While the team failed to repeat Miller's medal-winning performance at the Montreal Games in 1976, the team as a whole still finished strongly in all classes against stiff competition.

With Canada's boycott of the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union, it was not until l984 that Canadian crews once again competed in Olympics competition. Sailing off Los Angeles, the team posted its best Olympic performance - three medals in seven classes. Terry McLaughlin and Evert Bastet won Canada's first-ever Silver medal in the Flying Dutchman class, while teammates Terry Neilson and Hans Fogh, Steve Calder and John Kerr of Toronto, won Bronze medals in the Finn and Soling classes.

In 1988 the Olympic Regatta was held in Pussan, Korea. The sailing conditions were extremely difficult. Canada placed fourth overall out of sixty-one countries and was only one of six sports that captured a medal for Canada. The Bronze medal was won by Frank McLaughlin and John Millen in the Flying Dutchman class. Another great glory for the Canadian Olympic Team was the proud and heroic feat of Lawrence Lemieux, the Finn sailor. His act of saving a disabled sailor during an Olympic race in which he was second brought a great deal of pride and dignity to the team. Lawrence received an Olympic medal of heroism for his actions.

The Barcelona '92 Games started of with two disasters for the Canadian team. First, Murray McCaig, the young windsurfer from Manitoba, was struck by a police car while bicycling through the Olympic village the day before the first race. The injury that Murray sustained to his leg held him out of the Olympic Competition. Then the two-time Finn world champion, Hank Lammens, was disqualified from a race he previously won, because a life jacket was mysteriously missing from his boat during a post race inspection. Ross Macdonald and Eric Jespersen of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club over-came all these distractions to win a bronze medal for Canada in the Star class. Macdonald and Jespersen established a "best ever" performance for the Canadian team in that class. The Tornado team of David Sweeny and Kevin Smith of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club also established a "best ever" performance with a fifth place position. Canada placed seventh country in the medal ranking and 10th in the top eight rank.

The 1996 Olympic Regatta in Savannah was a test of endurance for all, with light winds and thunderstorms creating difficult conditions. The Canadian team of 10 classes for the Olympics and 1 for the Paralympics saw some excellent results with athletes winning races in five of 10 events and some massive disappointments with Canadians being disqualified from two of those wins. The Soling team of Bill Abbott, Joanne Abbott and Brad Boston, qualifying for the Match Racing with a 4th finish in the fleet race and finishing in 8th position, achieved the best performance. Richard Clarke (Finn class) and Penny Davis/Leigh Andrews (470 class) both finished 9th overall. The Paralympic event was a great success for sailing for disabled, and especially for Canada, with our Sonar team helmed by David Cook winning a silver medal.

The 2000 Olympic Regatta in Sydney saw fierce competition in all classes. Canadian sailors met the qualification standards to compete in 6 of 11 classes, as well as both Paralympic Classes. The Canadian highlights were the fifth place finish of Ross MacDonald and Kai Bjorn in the tough Star class, and Beth Calkin's 11th place finish in the Europe class. She amazed us all, coming back from a very debilitating back injury. The Sonar team of Dave Williams, Brian MacDonald, Paul Tingley & Jamie Whitman (spare) captured the second Canadian medal in a Paralympic Game with their impressive Bronze medal win.

The 2004 Olympic regatta in Athens, Greece, was a spectacular coming home celebration for the modern Olympic Games.  The Waters of the Agean Saronikos Gulf provided a fantastic venue for the regatta.  With the Parthenonvisible in the distance, Canada once again came away victorious with a sliver medal in the Star class by Ross MacDonald and Mike Wolfs. 

The 2004 Olympic team was generally very yong and most of the athletes have continued campaigning hard for the games in 2008.  Those efforts are already starting to show with steadily improving results and nearly every class having a Canadian ranked in the top 10 of the ISAF World Ranking Lists.

The past quadrennial has seen the sport take a giant leap towards professionalism, with most medal winners being full time athletes, dedicating themselves completely to their athletic career in sailing. If Canada is to excel we must work hard to expand and improve our coaching services and financial support for our athletes, while maintaining the spirit and dedication that has fostered excellent results in the past.

The Canadian Sailing Team represents a triumph of talent, perseverance and dedication of which all Canadians can be proud. It has come a long way since Norm Robertson's inaugural effort back in 1924, and with the Olympics almost upon us, the future looks even better. With not just the wind but the spirit of the country behind them, the present team can further add to the luster and distinction of a truly national sporting tradition.

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