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  Monday, 12 February, 2001, 16:08 GMT
Ellen's journey back to reality
Ellen MacArthur triumphant after entering the record books
Ellen now faces the bumpy ride to normal life
Yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur is back on dry land after racking up two records during the Vendée Globe round-the-world race. But after the highs of the last few days BBC News Online's Melissa Jackson looks at the difficulties she will face in the coming months.

With a major sporting achievement under her belt, Ellen MacArthur has made headline news not just in her native UK but also in France where, before this weekend, she was better known.

Overnight, her record of becoming the fastest woman and youngest person to circumnavigate the world in a single-handed race, has transformed her into a sporting heroine with the world at her feet.

But those feet are now on dry land and once the media interest and her 15 minutes of fame has subsided, weathering the challenge of everyday life, could be her next great hurdle.

"You are talking about someone who has been in a situation for nearly three months and is coming back to a situation which is very different," said sports psychologist Dr David Lavallee.

After a few days the pressure builds up
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, former round-the-world sailor

So far, according to Dr Lavallee, she is showing very positive signs of dealing with the transition.

On observing the way she handled her first television interviews, he said she appears to be very much in control of her life, which indicates she will cope.

He said: "What would be in her favour in this case is that it wasn't something she was expecting to happen.

"In the case of people who expect to win and expect to continue to do well, it may be much more difficult for them."


Psychologists have also observed that Ellen displays a maturity far beyond her 24 years, which will also help her to adjust more swiftly.

"If she was on the television saying something different, and expressing fears about certain things, I would be saying something different, " said Dr Lavallee.

Ellen's composure and confidence are characteristics identified by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who made history in 1969 by becoming the first person to sail single-handedly round the world without stopping.

Ellen MacArthur cracks open the champagne
Ellen shows confidence and maturity

The 312 days alone at sea were a tough challenge and he knows only too well how difficult it can be to come back to earth with a bump.

The media barrage then as now for Ellen, was quite overwhelming.

He told BBC News Online: "You come back feeling really friendly to everyone. You want to say 'yes' to everyone.

"But after a few days the pressure builds up."

He dealt with it by escaping to familiar territory: "I went back to sea again after about five days."

Sir Robin does not feel he suffered any long-term ill effects from being isolated at sea for nearly a year, although there were short term difficulties to overcome.

"Coping with people, I found that an enormous pressure."

Role model

But he persevered and he believes Ellen will adjust to land life just as readily as he did.

He said: "She is probably a bit more self assured than I was.

"It is a tremendous achievement for her. I am so impressed.

"She has shown that if you want to do something badly enough you can do it.

"What a super role model for the youth of this country."

But this is just the beginning for Ellen and the future could throw up more challenges if she continues to win trophies.

The more successful athletes become, the more stressful it is to deal with, according to psychologists.

Although Ellen appears to be in control of navigating her adjustment to normality, her progress will only be deemed to be truly successful if she is able to maintain her position amid the competition that lies ahead.

Ellen MacArthur in the Vendee Globe race

Home-coming heroine

Race news




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