We do not know what we have lost until it is gone. The days when sport stars were close to the public are so long gone that it is strange to be reminded of it.
Walking the dock at Les Sables d’Olonne is to be reminded of times past. For your correspondent, the difference between the open, buzzing and curious Vendée crowds thronging around and on the boats (by invitation) and the hermetically sealed boat park of the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland in the summer, could not have been greater. As many nations complained in London at the time, the obsession with security in the boat park meant that people could not see the sailors and the boats as they prepared for racing. When you come to Les Sables d’Olonne you realise how much was lost.
Many are varied are the vexations of modern sport but chief among them is the way that our professional sportsmen and women have become separated from the public. A wall of obsessive security, paranoia and ego have left them often remote figures.
None are so remote in competition as the solo skippers of the Vendée Globe, alone at sea for three or four months, which is why these 20 days of exhibition are so important. These 20 skippers and their 60ft boats are the heroes you can touch.
“It’s deeply flattering that people want to come and see us,” Mike Golding, still enjoying the pre-race fervor as he get ready his fourth consecutive Vendée Globe, said. “That’s the wonderful thing about the Vendée Globe, the feeling that you get here, you know that all these people are going to be watching the race. When you’re a sailor, particularly as British sailors, we’re not used to that kind of support. You can’t imagine anything on that scale in the UK now, but it has happened before, but somewhere in the last three or four decades it’s gone missing.”