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Paul Elvstrøm : biography

25 February 1928 -

Paul Bert Elvstrøm (born February 25, 1928 in Copenhagen) is a yachtsman from Denmark. He has won four gold medals at the Olympic Games and won world championships eleven times in eight different types of boat, including Snipe, Soling, Star, Flying Dutchman and Finn.


Elvstrøm, in his career, won medals at the world championships in eight kind of sailing classes: Finn, 505, Snipe, Flying Dutchman, 5.5 Metre, Star, Soling and Tornado.

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
1956 Finn World Championships Burnham-on-Crouch 2nd Finn url=|title=Finn World Championships||accessdate=20 April 2012}}
1957 505 World Championships La Baule-Escoublac 1st 505 url=|title=Paul Elvstrøm - Results||accessdate=21 April 2012}}
1958 505 World Championships La Baule-Escoublac 1st 505
Finn World Championships Zeebrugge 1st Finn
1959 Finn World Championships Copenhagen 1st Finn
Snipe World Championships Porto Alegre 1st Snipe
1962 Flying Dutchman World Championships St. Petersburg 1st Flying Dutchman
1966 5.5 metres World Championships Copenhagen 1st 5.5 metres
Star World Championships Kiel 1st Star
1967 Star World Championships Copenhagen 1st Star
1969 Soling World Championships Copenhagen 1st Soling
Star World Championships San Diego 2nd Star
1971 Soling World Championships New York 3rd Soling
1974 Soling World Championships Sydney 1st Soling
1985 Tornado World Championships Travemünde 3rd Tornado


He competed in eight Olympic Games from 1948 to 1988, being one of only four persons ever (the others are sailor Ben Ainslie and athletes Carl Lewis in the long jump and Al Oerter in the discus) to win four consecutive individual gold medals (1948, '52, '56, '60), first time in a Firefly, subsequently in Finns. In his last two Olympic games he sailed the very high performance Tornado Catamaran class, which is normally sailed by two fit young men, with his daughter Inge Trine Elvstrøm as forward hand.

Elvstrøm is also noted as a developer of sails and sailing equipment. One of his most successful innovations was a new type of self-bailer. The design is still in production under the Andersen brand and has been widely copied. The new features were a wedge shaped venturi that closes automatically if the boat grounds or hits an obstruction, and a flap that acts as a non return valve to minimise water coming in if the boat is stationary or moving too slowly for the device to work. Previous automatic bailers would be damaged or destroyed if they met an obstruction, and would let considerable amounts of water in if the boat was moving too slowly.

Elvstrøm was a very early innovator in training techniques. For example he used the technique of 'sitting out' or hiking using toe-straps to a greater degree than previously, getting all his body weight from the knees upwards outside the boat, thus providing extra leverage to enable the boat to remain level in stronger winds and hence go faster than his competitors. This technique required great strength and fitness, so Elvstrøm built a training bench with toe-straps in his garage to replicate the sitting-out position in his dinghy. He then proceeded to spend many training hours on dry land sitting out on the bench at home.

He also popularised the kicking strap, or boom vang (US). This may take the form of a block and tackle linking a low point on the mast (or an equivalent point on the hull) and the boom close to the mast, which allows the boom to be let out when reaching or running without lifting. This controls the twist of the mainsail from its foot to its head, increasing the sail's power and the boat's speed and controlability. Elvstrøm did not advertise his new invention, leaving his competitors mystified at his superior boat-speed. Investigation of his dinghy revealed nothing as he used to remove the kicking strap before coming ashore.

He established a manufacturing company whose products included masts, booms, and sails. He has also been instrumental in developing several international yacht racing rules.

Among the innovative concepts he has brought to sailboat racing is the concept of gates instead of a single windward or leeward mark in large regattas. The leeward gate on a windward-leeward course is commonly used. The windward gate less often used due to the difficulties in managing right-of-way around the right gate whose subtlies are understood mostly by match racers.

In 1996 Elvstrøm was chosen as "Danish Sportsman of the Century."

In 2007 Elvstrøm was among the first six inductees into the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Sailing Hall of Fame.

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