It’s fair to say that the last week or so has been pretty hectic in the sporting world… Well ok, the football world then! Fergie’s retirement, Wigan winning their first ever FA Cup before being relegated, Mancini’s sacking and, tonight, Chelsea’s opportunity to be the first team ever to hold both the Champions League and the Europa League titles at the same time. It’s easy for other sports to get overlooked at times like this and this has been the case for sailing, which suffered one of its most high profile tragedies on the 9th May 2013.
Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson, MBE, was one of a fantastic generation of sailors that have helped Great Britain dominate the sailing world in recent times. Simpson was introduced to sailing at the age of four when visiting his grandparents and his natural skill was soon spotted by many coaches, including Jim Saltonstall, one of the greatest British sailing coaches of all time and a key reason for Britain’s recent successes. Simpson’s life was then completely dominated by sailing – he even attended a boarding school that originally started as a nautical college and taught all the students how to sail.
As Simpson was developing to professional level he was among a hugely talented group of sailors, including Great Britain’s greatest Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie and long-term friend Iain Percy. On his own, ‘Bart’ was always just a step behind these two – in 2003 he won the World Championship bronze medal in the Finn class, with Ainslie winning the gold for the second time (he would later go on to win 4 more golds in this class, including in 2012). After this he then became Percy’s partner in the 2-man Star class, after the two had been training partners in the Finn class for a number of years. It was to be the start of a fantastic partnership.
Percy was much more experienced on the big stage, having already won Olympic gold in the Finn class at the Athens Games of 2000 alongside four World Championship medals in the Star Class (a gold and three bronzes). Simpson’s strength and power combined beautifully with Percy’s guile and they won their first medal together at the World Championships of 2007, finishing in third. However their greatest achievement came the next year during the Beijing Olympics, the pair finishing well ahead of Sweden in second.
They went into the Games ranked 12th in the world, with only four pairs ranked lower than them in the competition and, after a pretty poor opening two races, things weren’t looking good. But their form drastically improved and they managed to win both the 7th and 8th races while finishing second in races 6 and 9 to have all-but-guaranteed the gold by the final race. It was a dominant performance from Simpson and Percy and further showed just how good Britain were – this was one of Britain’s four gold sailing medals at the 2008 Games and their overall total of six medals was double the amount of everyone else.
After taking a break in 2009, Percy and Simpson reunited to win World Championship gold in 2010 before a silver medal at the same event two years later saw them going into the Olympics full of momentum. Everything was going well and they were ahead of the Swedish pair of Frederik Loof and Max Salminen going into the medal race on the final day, having won three races and finishing second in a further four. However the final race went disastrously, with the pair finishing well down the field, while the Swedes finished at the front to claim the gold and get their own back for 2008. It was a case of so near yet so far, as was the story for most of the British sailors. Again they claimed the highest number of medals (5), but four of these were silver and, if it were not for Ainslie’s amazing comeback in the Finn class, GB could have walked away from London 2012 without a gold in the sailing.
This was the last time Simpson raced competitively. He was gearing up for the America’s Cup, starting in a few days, when his boat capsized. For reasons still unknown to the general public, Simpson was trapped under the water for 10 or so minutes and could not be revived. His death has come as a shock to all – he was an extremely fit man in the prime of his career, still hurting from not winning gold at London 2012 and determined to make up for it. He wanted Britain to once again become a force in the America’s Cup, a race a British boat has not won since 1958, and died trying to achieve just that.
A true Olympic hero, RIP Andrew Simpson (17/12/1976 – 09/05/2013).