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London Olympics 2012 - Perfidious Albion up close

by Mark Chisnell on 10 Aug 2012
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) lead the 49er class racing in front of a big crowd on the Nothe course. Richard Gladwell
The Nothe Course (aka Perfidious Albion) is the... ahem, difficult venue for the Olympic Medal Races, and today I got to see it up close for the first time. The idea was to live blog the 470 Men's medal race from there, to add some live colour and atmosphere to the normal data-fed information. Unfortunately, this was the first day of the Olympics where the breeze failed to show and there was no racing at all.

I've already had my two cents worth on the racing aspect of the Nothe, and I was hoping to be able to comment more fully on the spectator side of the deal. But I can't really tell you what it's like to watch from the Nothe, save for a few general points. First up, this is a fantastic site for watching sailboat races. The height is probably the most important thing, it means that you can see the whole race course set out below you - and presumably, get a much better idea of position and strategy than you could from sea level.

The Nothe is just the right elevation to ensure everyone has a view, and the grass makes for a very comfortable perch. It even flattens off towards the back of the site, leaving plenty of space for all the amenities required for a day out - bars, food concessions and toilets. It's also extremely easy to reach from central Weymouth, literally a short hike up some steps, or via a gentler but longer road route. It's hard to imagine a better spot geographically.

Secondly, the organisers have done a great job of laying out the site. At one end of the hill is a big screen, so while the racing is right out in front of you, a quick glance to the left gives you a view of camera close-ups, tracker images or whatever else the commentators need to help explain the action. It also means that during the warm-up, or whenever there is a lull in the sailing, the crowd are happily entertained with videos explaining the sport, or competition from any one of the other Olympic venues.

Down to one side of the screen is a stage for the announcing and commentary team to do interviews - on the day that we were there, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen brought along their 49er gold medals for the crowd to see. It's hard to get much closer to an Olympic medal unless you know someone who's got one.

There's no doubt in my mind that this venue and the way it's been utilised will set a new standard for spectator sailing. And yes, I think people have been right to conclude as a result that sailing can be a spectator sport - but a word of warning.

This is a perfect storm of conditions - it's not just the perfect venue, but we need to remember that this is the Olympics. The prize is the same for Usain Bolt and Ben Ainslie, and that gives this competition in Weymouth a legitimacy available to no other sailing event. The IOC go to a lot of trouble to maintain the mythos around this contest - it's what the torch route, the Opening Ceremony, the cauldron and flame, the four year cycle, the medal ceremonies, and even the venues cleared of any advertising help to promulgate.

Our belief that this competition matters beyond all others is not cheap to create or maintain - and there is nothing else, save perhaps the America's Cup, that has the anything like the ability of the Olympics to attract the attention of the uninitiated. People come to watch because it's the Olympics, not necessarily because it's sailing - so let's not get too carried away.

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