Alison Jolly: No i in team

Published on November 11th, 2019

Since its launch in 2011, the National Hall of Fame has enshrined 81 heroes of the sport, with its induction ceremonies offering an opportunity to witness these outstanding individuals. The Class of 2019 was the ninth such occasion, with Alison Jolly, the first-ever Women’s Olympic Gold Medalist, among the latest inductees. Here was her acceptance speech:

You can’t imagine how honored and humbled I am to be in the presence of an amazing group of sailors. The respect I have for everyone, and how much all of these hall-of-famers have had a positive impact on the sport of sailing, it’s incredible and I’m kind of choking up about it.

But now I’m going to go a little lighter. How many of you have heard that adage, “Behind every successful man there is a woman.”? Yes, most people, but that’s not my version. I’m not sure about that one. My version is, “Behind every successful skipper, there is a crew.” But that’s not quite right either. It’s in front of every successful skipper is a crew. They cross the finish line first; that’s a very important distinction.

I began sailing in prams in St. Petersburg, and I immediately fell in love with the sport. I liked the unique emphasis on both athletic and academic skills. That was very attractive to me. I’d been a swimmer as a child, but I had these tiny hands and feet, so I liked being able to use the brain and parts of my body.

I saw sailing as this cool sport, but my dad tried to derail my sailing career because I was too passive. I let people in at the marks; I just didn’t want to have any confrontations whatsoever. He actually threatened to take me out of the sport of sailing. I was probably ten years old.

I realized I needed to make a change. What was the change? Surround myself with people who could provide the tools that I needed to be successful, the ones that I lacked. I’ve been so fortunate, through all my years of sailing, to find those crews, coaches, mentors, friends, and family on and off the water who’ve just enhanced my limited skills, and been an amazing complement to what I brought to the sport.

There are too many to thank right now, but rest assured I will hunt you down, every one of you, and thank you profusely. There’s no escaping. I’m going to thank you for teaching me sail shape, trim, tuning, kinetics – you know who you are – race strategy, and hopefully humility and respect. Junior sailing, 420s, 470s, Sears Cups, Adams Cups, college competition, 505s, Snipes, C15s, Fireballs. You were all there for me, and I just can’t thank you all enough.

I do have a couple stories to share. At the 1988 Olympics which was, arguably, the highlight of my sailing career, in South Korea. It was the first time in 12 years the US and the Soviet Union were finally both competing because there had been boycotts in ’80 and ’84. Tensions were extremely high because there was a fear that North Korea would try to disrupt and/or sabotage the actual Games.

My sister, Jocelyn – who’s here all the way from Florida, thank you – took a leave of absence from her job and flew to South Korea, dragging an ultrasound machine with her to help treat my stiff neck. When she showed I couldn’t turn my head, and this was a day before the competition was supposed to start.

The machine she had was a metal box with wires hanging out of it. It looked like a bomb. But there she was, cheerfully dealing with repeatedly being stopped by machine-gun wielding guards in the airport and at every checkpoint throughout Korea. That’s dedication. Thank you.

Another story. I wouldn’t even have attempted to qualify for this first-ever Olympic women’s sailing event if it hadn’t been for my ex-husband, Mark Elliot and his family. They drafted me. They refused to take no for an answer. Trying to dissuade them, I demanded the perfect crew, thinking that would stop them. Mark immediately proclaimed that Lynne Jewell would be my crew.

I thought he was insane. Lynne was an accomplished helm. She had already been a podium finisher at multiple single-handed women’s international events. And, the kicker, she was already campaigning for the 1988 Olympics as a skipper. What is he thinking? Somehow, though, the magic happened, she agreed, and once again, I was paired with that special person who could balance me. Lynne Jewell Shore and I are truly yin and yang. The perfect complement to each other.

She was as much a part of earning that gold medal as I was, and I’m disappointed that she could not be standing next to me right now. Unfortunately, she wasn’t nominated to be in the National Sailing Hall of Fame. My understanding is, it was one of those situations where everyone assumed, she had been nominated. In sailing, behind every successful skipper, there is that crew. I always joked with her that it should be in front of since the crews do cross the finish line first.

I told her recently, “I suppose this is the first time that won’t happen.” I’m in front of her. But she does belong here, and I would like to take this opportunity to officially nominate her – I’ll follow through with the paperwork – to be in the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

Thank you, Committee, for this incredible honor and for everyone who could join us.

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