Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Did Elvstrøm Say?

Most racing sailors will say we are familiar with Paul Elvstrøm's famous quote about how you haven't won if, in doing so, you have lost the respect of your competitors. But are we? Do you know what Elvstrøm actually said, and where and when he said it?

Naturally, to answer a question like that anyone in 2011 will immediately reach for the Google. But the answers you find on the Interwebs may surprise you.

Sailing World in 2002 said that the quote is, "You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors."

Mike Noone of Nockamixon Sailing Club wrote in 2009 that the quote is, "Winning is no victory if, in doing so, you lose the respect of your competitors."

Some dude called flaursen wrote on the Hydroracer forum in 2007 that the quote is, "If in the process of winning you have lost the respect of your competitors you have won nothing."

And in my favorite online sailboat racing simulator SailX Elvstrøm is usually quoted as saying, "One has not won, if, in the process of winning, one has lost the respect of one's competitors."

You will find several more variations out there if you look around.


Who is right. What did Elvstrøm actually say?

And while we are at it, can we all agree how to spell his name. Several sources spell it as Elvström. But the guy is Danish. And there is no letter ö in the Danish alphabet.

One strange thing I have noticed is that nobody who use this Elvstrøm quote seems to cite when and where he said it. There is never a reference to the original source so that we can verify what he actually said.

So what's going on here? Did Elvstrøm actually express this sentiment several times in several different forms? Or did he say it once, and everyone has been paraphrasing it and garbling it ever since?

Or did he actually first express this thought in his native Danish and what we have are several different translations into English? Indeed, this excellent interview with Elvstrøm on reveals that at his first Olympics in England in 1948 he didn't speak any English at all.

It's a mystery.

Elvstrøm wrote a few books. Is the quote in one of those? I have an old version of Paul Elvstrøm Explains the Yacht Racing Rules. (Yes, possum, they really were called the Yacht Racing Rules back in 1981.) But I couldn't find the famous quote in there.

Can anyone solve this puzzle? What did Elvstrøm actually say, and when and where did he say it?


Noodle said...

Yes, it is Paul Elvstrøm. Danish o with the slash. Look up his danish books or better yet, visit his base, Hellerup Yachtclub. His name is everywhere on plaquettes, posters and cups. Heck, you might even meet him there. I did. About the quote, I dunno...

Tillerman said...

So, are you Danish, Noodles? If so, maybe you could ask Paul the answer to my question the next time you run into him? I'm sure my readers would be grateful to know the answer.

Andrew said...

Advanced Keelboat and Dinghy Racing Techniques. I think on the last page. Certainly in the last chapter. I'm moving house otherwise I'd dig my well-worn copy from it's place of honor on my bookshelf and tell you exactly.

Tillerman said...

I suspect Andrew is referring to Elvstrøm's Expert Dinghy and Keelboat Racing. Does anybody out there have a copy? If so maybe you can confirm that the famous quote is in there and tell us what the original wording is?

Brass said...

I went through my Elvstrom books, and if the quote is in there, it is not very prominent.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

The use of this quote has been so wide, I have come to feel it was becoming a little trite. I am wondering if this great Dane might actually have said, "You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost your self respect."

Anonymous said...

I don't think the exact words of his comment are important, all the above examples have pretty much the same meaning and are easily understood.

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