Jo Richards - Past Olympian 

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Jo Richards’ life-long drive to sail at an Olympics was realised when he helmed the Flying Dutchman to Los Angeles 1984 bronze with Pete Allam as crew. A world-renowned boat designer and builder Jo is responsible for, amongst other craft, the Laser Pico, Laser Vortex and Dart 6000. He also assisted Shirley Robertson in her two gold medal winning Olympic campaigns in 2000 and 2004. Now 56 Jo lives in Cowes, where he continues to design, and is the reigning National 12 National champion.

“Going to an Olympics was never so much a dream for me I just knew it was something I was always going to do and it was more a case of how and when I would go about it. My parents had a cruiser we used to sail on the rivers Avon and Severn and from the age of six I was crewing at the local Avon Sailing Club. My parents said they were never going to buy me a boat so I walked to school every day and saved the bus fare and if you offered me an ice-cream I’d have rather had the sixpence.

When I was 15 I’d saved enough and bought an old National 12 for £80. I enjoyed quite a bit of success in it until I sold it on for £140. In terms of percentage profit I don’t think I’ve matched that since!  

“To go to an Olympics I needed sail a Flying Dutchman or a 470 so I moved into the FD to campaign for Moscow 1980. Unfortunately the RYA had opted to boycott the Olympics even before the Trials so although myself and Hugh Myers won the Trial we knew we wouldn’t be going to the Games. It was under a table following an alcohol-fuelled evening in Hyeres in 1980 Pete Allam and I decided to campaign together for LA. We were the youngest helm and crew in the squad so it just seemed right.  

“At that time you were not compensated for loss of earnings if you were campaigning so you had to keep working and ended up working stupid hours to make ends meet. Things were very tight; I was living in an 8ft x 4ft x 4ft box in the roof of my workshop and remember three or four days where I literally didn’t have any money to eat, which is obviously not ideal when you’re training.

At the 1982 FD Worlds in Melbourne we lived in a container belonging to the US team, which we wired up to the electricity supply from the sailing club changing rooms. We had an obsessive mentality about going to the Games and never once did we question whether it was all worth it. It was self-confidence to the point of arrogance in many ways but we loved the sport and never lost our enjoyment.  

“Going into the Olympics we were pretty confident we’d do well. We’d won the pre-Olympics with a day to spare and we had a boat that was technically better than anyone elses in the World. In normal LA weather of good breezes we could beat anybody. By the time the Games arrived, the weather had changed and it was much lighter. We were still confident about our light airs speed but we were too conservative in the sails we measured in and it ended up costing us.

Everyone says to you before the Games about trying not to get too wound up but I needed that to sail well and for some reason I also wasn’t wound up enough.  

We eventually took the bronze medal with a good performance in the last race but you don’t win a bronze medal as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to have something locked away in a drawer, and it’s better than no medal, but it’s not why you go.  

“Even though I was only 30 in LA I was in so much debt I had no option but to sell everything and stop. I could never have afforded to campaign for Seoul 1988. Being an Olympic medallist did open a few more doors for me though simply because people were more familiar with my name.    

“The level of support the sailors get now is great, I don’t begrudge them it at all. The battle for 2012 selection is going to be fascinating. I’ve done some Olympic 49er coaching and seeing so many talented crews bidding for selection won’t do the class any harm at all.

The Games being in Britain will just make everything feel easier for the sailors; the familiarity with the venue helps as does the fact if you need anything for the boat you know straight away where to go to find it.”