Ian Walker Past Olympian 

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Ian Walker is a double Olympic silver medallist winning a 470 medal at Atlanta 1996 with John Merricks before repeating the feat with Mark Covell in the Star at Sydney 2000. He also coached Shirley Robertson, Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton to Yngling gold at Athens 2004. A veteran of two America’s Cups, he skippered Green Dragon in the 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race. Aged 40, he will race for Ireland in the 2010 Rolex Commodores’ Cup and is planning his 2011-2012 VOR campaign.

“Winning Olympic medals changed my life. Firstly it vindicates all the time, money and effort you’ve put into the campaigns. The family sacrifices are worth it and every decision is also vindicated when the history books show you’ve won a medal. It also opened doors to me to sail professionally. I didn’t sail Olympic boats again after Sydney and concentrated on big boats and coaching the girls.  

“My two Olympic medal-winning experiences were very different. In 1996 we went into the last race knowing we couldn’t win gold. It was such a tight race finished in virtually zero knots of wind. Crossing the finishing line and knowing we’d won silver was a huge relief and is my abiding memory.  

“In Sydney it was all about the medal ceremony on the steps of the Opera House. We felt we’d sailed a good last race and could have done no more. It was also a very emotional ceremony as my Atlanta 470 partner John Merricks had died in a car accident in 1997 and Glyn Charles, who Mark had planned to do his Sydney Star campaign with, was lost in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race. We were happy just to come away with a medal and although as time goes by it rankles at bit it wasn’t gold, as we only missed gold by one point, we were really pleased with what we’d achieved.  

“I almost think of myself as part of the old school in terms of Olympic campaigning. When John and I started out it was about raising as much as we could through winning the odd £200 RYA grant at the weekend qualifiers, grants from organisations such as SportsAid and begging for goods in kind, like sails and boat parts, from people while keeping costs to a minimum. We used to sleep in vans and tents and I’d work part-time selling t-shirts at regattas and teaching sailing.  

“When Lottery money arrived in 1997 everything changed beyond recognition. There was a ten-fold increase in budget from the first year of our 470 campaign compared to the first year of our Star campaign and everything became much more professional in terms of everyone going full-time and the resources available. The racing format had also changed gradually from one long race a day to three shorter races a day. The increased fitness requirements to compete were all part and parcel of the ongoing professionalism.  

“London 2012 is going to be a great opportunity to showcase British sailing at Weymouth and Portland and hopefully it will be among the higher profile sports on TV and in the country. The best thing would be if Ben Ainslie could win his fourth Olympic gold medal as he really starts getting into the realms of doing for sailing what Sir Steven Redgrave did for rowing. I’ll be rooting for whoever’s got a GBR on their sail at the Games but I’d really love Ben to do it again.  

“The build up to London 2012 is a rare opportunity for sailing to build on its past success and raise the profile of the Olympic sailors and support for the sailors of the future. At the top the guys are pretty well supported but the 19-year-olds who are just leaving home or have gone off to university also need the help so they can be number one in the future. The Skandia Team GBR Supporters’ Club is a great way to get, and keep, people interested in sailing and supporting the all the sailors. ”   

 

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