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  Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Ellen's French Connection
Ellen is known in France as La Jeune Espoire de la Voile, sailing's young hope
Ellen: La Jeune Espoire de la Voile
BBC Sport Online discovers why Ellen MacArthur is just as famous in France as in Britain.

When Ellen crossed the finish line in second place in the Vendee Globe round the world race, more than 200,000 French fans turned out to greet her.

In France, arguably the leading sailing nation where top skippers are feted as much as Formula One drivers, MacArthur has been a famous figure for some years.

She is known there as 'La Jeune Espoire de la Voile' (sailing's young hope) and is roared on with the catchphrase she invented, 'Ellen donf' (Ellen full on).

She has been the darling of the French public since she camped out in a French shipyard as an unknown 18-year-old.


We can understand the emotions which she talks about in French so well - everyone has fallen under her charms
Philippe Jeantot
She was there re-fitting her first real ocean-going boat - which she later sailed across the Atlantic to great acclaim.

Her first race on board Kingfisher was the prestigious Route Du Rhum from St Malo to Guadaloupe in 1999 - and more than a million people turned up to watch the start.

In many ways, the 24-year-old sums up the French marine industry: young, cool and vibrant.

She is also a gutsy female excelling in a male-dominated sport and, almost as importantly, has made the effort not just to learn French but become virtually fluent.

"When she speaks we understand what she says," says Philippe Jeantot, who organised the end-of-race reception at Les Sables D'Olonne.

Many more people turned out to greet Ellen in France than in England
Many more people turned out to greet Ellen in France than in England
"We can also understand the emotions which she talks about so well. Everyone in France has fallen under her charms."

MacArthur has been compared with some of the great French female sailors such as Florence Arthaud, who won the Route du Rhum in 1980, and Isobelle Autissier, famed for winning the first leg of the solo round-the-world race in 1994.

Round-the-world solo sailing began as a quintessentially British adventure.

Sir Francis Chichester became the first person to do it in 1967 and Robin Knox-Johnston and Chay Blyth soon made their marks on the history of long-distance sailing.

But it did not take the French long to dominate a field they have since taken very much to their hearts.

Alain Colas, Philippe Monnet, Olivier de Kersauson and Titouan Lamazou, who won the first Vendee Globe race in 1989, were the names to follow in the late 1970 and 1980s.

Ellen pops a cork on France's favourite drink at the end of her Vendee Globe adventure
Ellen pops a cork on France's favourite drink
Mike Golding made headlines for Britain in 1994 when he set a new record for an east-to-west circumnavigation, in Team Group IV.

But it was skippers such as Christophe Auguin and Alain Gautier, who Ellen will crew for this summer aboard his trimaran Foncia, who hogged the limelight for France with their victories in the Vendee Globe.

MacArthur's decision to throw her hat in with the French trimaran circuit is understandable not just because of her affinity with the public but her need to earn a living.

The sponsorship side of the sport is far more highly developed in France, largely thanks to high-profile television coverage.

Gautier is a long-standing hero of Ellen's and she is also old friends with many of the skippers taking part in this season's trimaran series.

If the partnership succeeds, the French connection may yet lure Ellen away from Britain for good.


Challenge Mondial race

Ellen's diary

Clickable guides

Mondial Background

Vendee Globe

BBC COVERAGE

AUDIO/VIDEO

SPORTS TALK

INTERNET LINKS
Links to more MacArthur in the Mondial stories are at the foot of the page.


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