Sir Steve Redgrave, the five-time British gold medal winning Olympian rower and one of the greatest athletes of all time, swapped oars for lifejackets as he set sail with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, one of the teams competing in the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race.
The team, backed by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), is contesting the gruelling, 39,000 nautical mile round-the-world race, widely described as the ‘Everest of Sailing’.
The Volvo Ocean Race stops in Abu Dhabi on New Year’s Day 2012, meaning the UAE capital makes history by becoming the first Middle Eastern host port for the race in its 37-year history.
Visiting the UAE capital in his ‘See Britain Ambassador’ role ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Sir Steve was keen to pass on the knowledge torch to UAE national Adil Khalid, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s young Olympian.
The 22-year-old Emirati, who carried his country’s flag at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, made history after beating more than 120 other hopefuls to secure his berth on the Abu Dhabi team readying to contest the endurance race.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity to meet someone of Sir Steve’s calibre - he’s such an inspiration. Sir Steve has achieved what most of us can only dream of, and I was gripped by his stories and advice,” said Adil, who is the first Emirati sailor to compete in the Olympics and a Volvo Ocean Race.
Sir Steve also took the chance to meet up with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s skipper and double Olympic medallist, Ian Walker of Great Britain. Walker, originally from Southampton, competed in two of the same Olympic Games as Sir Steve, in 1996 and 2000.
Sir Steve is adamant the emirate can embrace the opportunity to create a sporting legacy that lasts long after the Volvo Open 70 racing yachts head off.
“Sport is a decisive facilitator for change and has the ability to inspire future generations. That belief forms the cornerstone for London 2012 and I believe Abu Dhabi has the same responsibilities to fulfil. In Adil and Ian, young sailors across the region have positive role models to aspire to,” said Sir Steve, who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000.
The 49-year-old nine-time world champion, who was an instrumental player in the UK capital securing the 2012 games, also expressed his appreciation for expansion and improvements being carried out at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC)-owned ExCel London venue for 7 Olympic and 6 Paralympic events during London 2012.
“This will leave a legacy both for London and Abu Dhabi,” said Sir Steve. “In much the same way, infrastructure developed in the UAE capital for the hosting of the Volvo Ocean Race will add to the destination’s sporting appeal. We would of course look forward to welcoming Abu Dhabi to our shores next summer.”
ADTA - which was also behind the emirate’s successful bid to become a 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race home port and the event’s first Official Destination Partner - has committed to making the Abu Dhabi stop-over a race highlight.
In its role, ADTA wants to give visitors a unique opportunity to connect with the emirate’s centuries-old maritime heritage as well as help inspire future generations to take up the sport and better foster its pursuit of becoming a world-class winter sailing destination - a mission Walker believes the team must also embrace.
The 2011/2012 race begins in Alicante, Spain, in October 2011 and ends in Galway, Ireland, in the summer of 2012. ADTA believes its involvement will help position the emirate, which boasts a 400 kilometre coastline and over 200 natural islands, as a preferred winter sailing destination.
ADTA was voted “World’s Leading Tourism Authority” at 2010 World Travel Awards.