skip to content
08 Aug 1948
London 1948
London 1948

Sailing - Paul Elvstrøm (DEN)

When a young Danish sailor, shy and sensitive, arrived in the south-west of England, few who saw him would have imagined that they were about to witness the start of an unprecedented run of success. Paul Elvstrøm was here to take part, and win, the Firefly class, and he would go on to win gold medals at the next three Olympic Games, too.

Yet the Danish Olympic Committee had had reservations about whether they should even send him to take part in the London Games. The 20-year-old could speak no English and seemed to lack the fight and resolve of his more experienced competitors. He retired from the first race after an argument with a Finnish rival, but resolved to come back stronger. And so he did.

His results improved markedly, climaxing with a victory on the penultimate day. But still the Gold medal seemed destined for America's Ralph Evans, who needed only to finish fourth to secure victory. Instead, Elvstrøm won again, this time by a margin of three minutes, while Evans could secure only fifth position. The bonus points that the young Dane secured for winning the last race proved the difference as he took over first place in the standings at the only moment when it really matters – at the end.

Elvstrøm's future was astonishingly bright. Along with the three gold medals to come, he was to finish his career having competed in eight Games, the last of them at the age of 60. He is also the only only sailor to win World Championship titles in five different classes and competed for many decades after his Olympic success, winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in 1985, when he was 57 years old.

back to top Fr