Please select your home edition
Edition
Jeanneau AUS Sunfast 728x90

The Great Dane dies at 88 + Video

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-world.com on 7 Dec 2016
Paul Elvstrom - London 1948 Olympic Games. He won his third Gold medal in the Finn class at Melbourne in 1956. He won Gold Medals in the Finn in 1952, 1956 and 1960, and the Firefly (singlehander) in 1948 Olympics. ISAF ©
One of the heroes of sailing, Paul Elvstrøm (DEN) has died at the age of 88 years.

Known as the Great Dane, and winner of four Olympic Gold Medals, Elvstrøm put a footprint on the sport like no other.

While there have been some inspiring sailors who have won a similar number of Olympic medals, none in the professional or amateur era have had the same effect on the sport as a competitor, innovator, author and making a business from sailing.

Paul Elvstrøm competed in eight Olympic Games from 1948 to 1988, winning Gold Medals in 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960 in the singlehanded class - being the singlehanded Firefly at the 1948 Olympics in London, and then in the new singlehanded Finn class in 1952 (Helsinki), 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome).


He was one of only six athletes to win consecutive Gold Medals at four Olympics, which puts him in the same league as Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, and Ben Ainslie. He competed in two additional Olympics in the Tornado catamaran with his daughter Trine, coming close to winning a Bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics (Long Beach).

Elvstrøm's belief was that after 1948 he could go on to win six Gold Medals, but the nervous intensity of Olympic competition led him to make the decision to leave the intensely competitive levels of the sport, bringing a halt to his Olympic campaigns until 1984.

Born on February 25, 1928, in a house overlooking the sound between Denmark and Sweden. His father was a sea captain but died when Elvstrøm was young, and he was bought up by his mother along with a brother and sister. A second brother died at the age of five years when he tragically fell off the sea wall in front of the family home. He claimed in his book Elvstrøm Speaks on Yacht Racing to be 'word blind' and could not read or write when he was at school.


He started sailing as a crew in a club fleet of small clinker keelboats, before believing he could do better and took over the helm. 'The only interest I had was in sailing fast,' he said of his school days. 'I was very bad in school,' he added. 'The teacher knew that if I was not at school, I was sailing.'

A neighbour bought him an Oslo dinghy, on the pretense that he wanted Elvstrøm to teach him how to sail, but in reality, it was because he thought Elvstrøm needed a boat and his mother was too poor to be able to afford one.

Elvstrøm was just 20 years old when he won his first Gold Medal in the first Olympics since World War II.

He went on like some others since to firstly start manufacturing his own sails and then expanding that into what became known as Elvstrøm Sails. That enterprise then spread into boat and equipment manufacture - typified by the development of the Elvstrøm self-bailer which is still in widespread use.


He home-developed many other sailing innovations - stacking straps which made hiking much easier, self-jamming cleats, boom vangs. Sailing at that time was in an era of quite dramatic change into the current sport of dinghy sailing, which in turn slowly took over Olympic sailing which had been the domain of keelboats.

Realising that physical fitness and constant practice were the essentials to winning, Elvstrøm cut a trench through the ice in front of his home so that he could sail year round, following large ships through into ice-free water so he could train. The development of a hiking bench was another Elvstrøm response to being able to physically train when he was not sailing.

This era was typified by home-made fittings and engineering innovation which led to mass production and Elvstrøm led this period of change.

The era was also typified by sailor-driven innovation by the winners in the sport developing products and promoting these to others in the sport. One-design was not as it is today with some development being permitted, such as in the mast and sail combinations in the then new Finn class.

Between Olympic campaigns, Elvstrøm branched into many classes all with a combination of success, innovation, and learning.

This included keelboats, C-class catamarans, international and Olympic classes, off-shore racers and many more. Elvstrøm won World Championships in Snipes, Stars, Soling, Finns, Flying Dutchman and 5.5 classes often within the same year and demonstrating his prowess across all disciplines from dinghies to keelboats.


In the 505 dinghy, he sailed one world championship as a trapezing skipper rather than the crew using the trapeze wire.

In that regatta his regular crew had to leave just before the regatta began due to a family bereavement. Elvstrøm picked up local sailor Pip Pearson from the beach and came within an ace of winning placing second behind (Sir) Jim Hardy. In the final race they had a four way contest with Larry Marks (GBR), John Cuneo (AUS) and Jim Hardy (AUS). Elvstrøm had to win with Hardy worse than 4th and Cuneo worse than sixth. Elvstrøm was leading with Hardy initially in 22nd. 'But he had fantastic speed and he came up faster and faster and I could do nothing. Finally he finished second but I was so pleased that such a good competitor and such a nice person could have beaten me.'



In 1966, in Puerto Rico, he broke a leg but still in that year Elvstrøm was able to win two world championships and came close in a third.

When the then IYRU - now rebadged as ISAF/World Sailing announced their intention to hold trials to select a new, possible Olympic singlehander, Elvstrøm devised a dinghy, the Trapez, that could be sailed as either a singlehander with the helm on the trapeze or with a second rig become a two person boat with a jib and trapezing crew. The trapezing helm concept was taken up by the Bob Miller (Ben Lexcen) designed Contender which went on to win the second set of trials.


Elvstrøm had a very strong sailing ethic of perfection and preparation, hours of practice, innovative thinking and competing intensely on the water against people who were always his friends off the water. These included his compatriots Helmer Pedersen and Hans Fogh, who left for New Zealand and Canada respectively, both establishing their own sailmaking businesses and winning Olympic Gold and Bronze medals respectively for their adopted countries (Fogh also won a Silver Medal for Denmark in the 1960 Olympics).

Paul Elvstrøm died in his sleep at his home in Hellerup, Denmark. His wife Anna pre-deceased him by three years; he is survived by four daughters Pia, Stine, Gitte and Trine.

'You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors', was one of Elvstrøm's many mantras and now becomes his epitaph.

Jeanneau Sunfast 660x82Yachtspot J Boats Sportsboats 660x82Harken AUS HL Snatch Block 660x82

Related Articles

Pulling G’s with Beneteau – Pt I
In a car, just the one G will have you straining at your seatbelt. In a car, just the one G will have you straining at your seatbelt. Over nine (+ve) in an aircraft, and without a G-suit, you will be unconscious. So at three G’s, and pulling no punches with them either, we not only enjoyed our opportunity to sit with Gianguido Girotti (G3), we got to learn a lot as well!
Posted today at 3:43 am
JATO ignited as SuperFoiler prepares for take off (Pt I)
When small military transports have to take off from impossibly short runways with a belly full of cargo When small military transports have to take off from impossibly short runways with a belly full of cargo akin to Mr. Creosote, they reach for the JATO bottles. Aircraft like C-7 Caribous and LC130 Hercules strap rockets, yes rockets, to the underside of their wings to gain valuable extra thrust, which surely helps keep the pilots' heart rates below the red line.
Posted on 22 Aug
A Q&A with the RORC’s Nick Elliott about the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race
I caught up with Nick Elliott, RORC Racing Manager, via email, to learn more about the world-famous Rolex Fastnet Race. When one stops to consider the world’s best ocean races, the Royal Offshore Racing Club’s Rolex Fastnet Race, which starts on Sunday, August 6, 2017, is never far from mind. I caught up with Nick Elliott, RORC Racing Manager, via email to learn more about the race’s history and evolution, its challenges, and the amount of work that goes into pulling off this world-famous regatta.
Posted on 1 Aug
Tank killers
Not all that long ago, the US Army started using depleted Uranium shells. Not all that long ago, the US Army started using depleted Uranium shells. These shells were wickedly awesome at their job, which was killing enemy tanks in their tracks (and yes the pun is fully intended). The mighty, turbine powered, M1 Abrams became even more formidable, and their crews somewhat safer again.
Posted on 24 Jul
Ian Walker - Musto Ambassador on the Volvo Ocean Race, America's Cup
Ian Walker on his Volvo Ocean Race win, why food and clothing are so important offshore, his views on the America's Cup We speak to Musto ambassador Ian Walker about his Volvo Ocean Race win, why food and clothing are so important offshore, his views on the America's Cup, his new desk job, sailing for fun, and 20 years of the John Merricks Sailing Trust.
Posted on 23 Jul
Black Jack Yachting. Bigger boat. Bigger team. Even bigger performance
Throughout the iterations of maxis called Black Jack, a strong, consistent and talented team has been their focus Throughout the iterations of maxis called Black Jack, a strong, consistent and talented team has been their focus. Some were sail makers, like Skipper Mark Bradford and also Vaughan Prentice from North Sails’ Brisbane loft. Others were riggers, such as Bruce Clarke, and there are even boat builders, like Gary van Lunteren, as well as Ash Deeks.
Posted on 20 Jul
Gladwell's Line - America's Cup returns to its new home and thinking
Emirates Team New Zealand's win in the 35th America's Cup ends 17-years of wandering in the AC wilderness Emirates Team New Zealand's win in the 35th America's Cup ends 17-years of wandering in the AC wilderness and will open a new era of America's Cup, New Zealand and World Sailing. A rookie crew won the most prestigious trophy in sailing, and one of the most difficult to win in any sport.
Posted on 29 Jun
SuperFoilers Are Go!
SuperFoilers represent many things. Whilst those components are disparate and virtually from different planets SuperFoilers represent many things. Whilst those components are disparate and virtually from different planets in the great scheme of things, they come together in the one form as harmoniously as a Rolls Royce, and also deliver intense energy way past the sum of their parts, just like some amazing band.
Posted on 28 Jun
Poppy takes Australia to her dad who’s afflicted with Parkinson’s
It’s a very sad way to begin such a great voyage. Not that you would know from the ultra-effervescent Poppy Moore... It’s a very sad way to begin such a great voyage. Not that you would know from the ultra-effervescent Poppy Moore, mind you. So the chance to talk with her and learn her tale was fantastic, and she is also the best one to recount it. “I decided to sail around Australia to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s, because my father’s got Parkinson’s
Posted on 5 Jun
Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 - It just works
Every now and then a boat just clicks. It has all the right bits, of the correct dimensions, in the appropriate places Every now and then a boat just clicks. It has all the right bits, of the correct dimensions, in the appropriate places, and out of it all you get something that simply sings. The Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 is one of these craft. It was designed and built in parallel to the other, more well known versions of the brand’s vessels, and benefits from being more geared towards performance, without going tot
Posted on 23 May