The day I won an Olympic gold medal

GOLDEN BOY Olympic yachtsman Mike McIntyre, on Hayling Island. Picture: Steve Reid (122340-057)
GOLDEN BOY Olympic yachtsman Mike McIntyre, on Hayling Island. Picture: Steve Reid (122340-057)

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High winds and big waves were smashing against the side of the small boats. In one of the windiest Olympic sailing races in history, it was a real struggle for all the competitors.

But Mike McIntyre and Bryn Vaile hadn’t come this far and worked this hard to be beaten by the conditions.

The Star class sailors in the Great Britain team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics knew this was their moment and they were determined to seize it.

By the time they were out on the water, the wind was up to 20 knots. But they had picked the right strategy. They leapt from fourth to first on a final day of drama.

Mike, from Hayling Island, recalls: ‘A lot of people decided to use light weather sails and we used heavy. Thankfully we did because it turned into a very windy race.’

After sitting and listening to music to keep himself calm, Mike decided they were going to give it their all.

He explains: ‘We just had to go for it and do the race. I remember the coach said to us ‘‘forget about gold or silver, you’re in with a chance for bronze so go for that’’.

‘But when we got in the boat I said to Bryn ‘‘forget about that, we are going to win it’’.’

Mike, now 56, explains: ‘The waves were about 10 feet high and by now the wind was up to 30 knots. We were nearly knocked out of the boat.’

As they crossed what they thought was the finish line, there was absolute silence. At first, they feared they might have been disqualified.

Mike says: ‘We expected to hear a shot at the finish. Then when the Australians crossed behind us, the gun went off. We thought they had it.

‘It was only when we got near a press boat, and there was a British journalist jumping up and down shouting “gold! gold! gold!”, that we realised we had it.’

For Mike, the moment he won an Olympic gold medal is hard to describe.

He says: ‘It was like the weight of the world coming off your shoulders. Winning the Olympics was a 20-year dream because I decided when I was 12 I was going to be in the Olympics.

‘It’s the age a lot of people decide they want to go even if they don’t tell anybody. I’d been in 1984 but that didn’t go so well, so I’d wanted it for a long time.’

The lead-up to the Olympics had not been straightforward for Mike, then a sales manager for a car phone company, and Bryn.

In 1987 Mike’s priorities switched to home and hospital when his two-year-old son, Angus, was diagnosed with a brain tumour (and went on to make a full recovery).

Meanwhile in the same year Bryn contracted an infection which robbed him of sight in his left eye for three months.

He needed a corneal graft and during the Olympics wore goggles to prevent the salt water getting in his eye.

Weight was a critical factor in balancing the mainsail on the Star and the engine for maximum power and speed. To improve their chances, Mike and Bryn got heavier by gorging on Mars bars and burgers, plus they wore 20kg of wet clothing, But they still had to be fit.

Mike says his resolve was strengthened by soundings among rival coaches before the race.

‘None thought I had a chance,’ he says.

‘That made me so angry I was determined to prove them wrong.’

They won their gold medals on September 27, 1988 – the day on which Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100m gold medal.

Every other news line from the Games was downgraded.

Mike also says they never got due credit.

‘It’s slightly annoying that still, after 24 years, you see reports that we only won it because the Americans lost their mast, as though we were handed it on a plate.’

Mike and Bryn, whose story features in a new book Golden Years: Britain’s Summer Olympic Champions 1948-2008 by Clive Ellis. meet up on September 27 each year. Last summer they sailed together for the first time in 18 years.

Both Mike’s daughters are keen sailors. The younger of the two, Eilidh, is in the Olympic development squad. Gemma crewed her father to second place in the Flying 15 World Championships at their home club, Hayling Island, last year.

He says he can’t wait for the 2012 Olympics to happen on home soil.

‘It’s special having the Olympics in the UK and having the sailing in Weymouth, because that’s where I trained and where many Olympic sailors have trained.

‘I’ll be at the sailing for two days and I’m also going to the main stadium for a day.

‘I’m really looking forward to it. It will be such a shame when it ends.’

n Golden Years: Britain’s Summer Olympic Champions 1948-2008 by Clive Ellis, is published by Greenwich Publishing, priced £18.99