Sail Of The Century | Moscow 1980

Up until 1980 just 21 men had represented Ireland in Olympic sailing (women-only events were not introduced until 1988) so the silver medal won by David Wilkins and James Wilkinson in the Flying Dutchman class proved a pivotal moment for our island nation.Wilkins (from Malahide) was the first Irishman to compete in five Olympic Games (1972-92) and only joined forces with Wilkinson (from Howth) eight months beforehand, though they had crewed together while students at Trinity College.Sailing in 1980 was actually held in Tallinn, Estonia (800 miles from Moscow) and while they didn’t win any of their seven races they were runners-up in four of them and it was neck-and-neck between them and the top Spaniards until they overtook them in the penultimate race but that left them virtually guaranteed of silver before the final.“Because of that it was a relatively stress-free final race and the surge of excitement we both felt when we crossed the finishing line was overwhelming,” Wilkins said.They modestly credited Ireland’s first Olympic sailing medal to an equipment change (a new centreboard) in the build-up but, in a sport so precariously balanced on weather conditions and judgement, their skill and teamwork was even more critical.They also made history on the Olympic podium because it was the first time that Lord Killanin presented a medal to athletes from his home country during his presidency (1972-1980) of the International Olympic Committee.

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