Rodney Pattisson - Past Olympian 

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For 32 years Rodney Pattisson had the honour of being Britain’s most successful sailing Olympian having won Flying Dutchman (FD) class golds at Mexico 1968 (with Iain MacDonald-Smith) and Munich 1972 (with Christopher Davies) before claiming FD silver at Montreal 1976, where he also carried the British flag at the opening ceremony. After retiring from Olympic sailing Pattisson co-skippered Britain’s 1983 America’s Cup challenge. Now 66, he is a devoted trimaran enthusiast.

I enjoyed considerable success at the three Olympics I attended but that first gold and the whole experience of Mexico stand outs. I was delighted to win the second gold but it was never the same winning it twice; my motivation was to repeat what I’d achieved in Mexico whereas going to Mexico we hadn’t won a World Championship yet and I wanted to prove we were the best in the World.

I went to Royal Navy training college at Dartmouth straight from school and as a Cadet it was noted I could helm a boat pretty fast.  I was recommended to crew at an inter-service regatta but  one of the helms was taken ill and I was asked to step in, which was unheard of for a Cadet, but I did very well.  

Through these events I got to know the twins Adrian and Stuart Jardine, who also both went on to be Olympians, who were in the Army. They said if I wanted to get leave from the Navy to sail I needed to sail an Olympic class. I didn’t even know what a Flying Dutchman was but Adrian knew a scrap merchant who was selling an old FD so I purchased this boat for £220 and after doing it up I attended the trials for the 1964 Olympics. It was a disaster; my boat was old, everything was wrong with it but it was a learning curve and I was determined to buy a new boat and do everything better.  

As a submarine officer getting leave was very difficult but I struck a bargain with Rear Admiral Sir Ian McGeoch, who was a keen sailor and empathised with me, that if I passed my submarine exams I could have all the time off I needed to campaign for Mexico 1968. I was very, very lucky in that respect and because I was on paid leave. That said we were still campaigning day-to-day on a shoestring and camping at events. There were a few travel grants available from the RYA and nothing towards accommodation but I could afford to build my boats to the quality I wanted.  

On returning from Mexico we had many, many dinners and engagements to attend, although we never benefitted financially from these, and we had a great time before I returned to service for another two years. Sailing was in my blood and sailing and a life in the Navy weren’t compatible.  

When you’re at the very top of your game you become very aware of people trying to hinder you. I had people trying to get me thrown out of the Olympics claiming I wasn’t a true amateur and was being paid to sail, which wasn’t true. Also at Montreal 1976 we lost the gold because of gamesmanship over a protest involving the Dutch crew. We were leading for the first three days but after the outcome of this protest saw the Dutch disqualified for the second successive race and fall down the fleet, they match raced us out of contention in the next two races. I wrote to the jury telling them what I believed was happening and in the final race the Dutch stayed clear and we scrapped the silver but having previously won two golds silver felt like the consolation prize.  

By winning his third gold in Beijing, Ben Ainslie eclipsed my Olympic medal record but I sincerely hope he goes on to win a fourth and fifth gold medal. I admire him enormously and while Sir Steven Redgrave’s five golds are indisputably impressive, he won all of them as part of a team whereas Ben has won all his medals as an individual. One of the greatest things about sailing is it rewards experience and although he may not be getting any younger his experience is absolutely invaluable.