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  Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 06:09 GMT
Ellen: A first-hand account
Ellen MacArthur
MacArthur arrives in Les Sables d'Olonne
BBC Sport's sailing commentator Richard Simmonds offers his personal reflections on Ellen MacArthur's achievements and asks where she stands in the pantheon of British sailing greats.

I came down to Les Sables d'Olonne three days ago, and the place was empty. There was hardly a bar open.

There were 100,000 when Desjoyeaux came in, and then when Ellen MacArthur arrived there were at least twice that number.

It's been an incredible experience.

The Vendee is a huge event over here, with daily TV updates throughout the race.

To give you some idea of the interest, half a million people came to see the boats and skippers before they left back in November.


She's gone through some incredible things
Richard Simmonds
I've never been to a sporting event charged with so much emotion.

You have to remember that it's a terribly serious event. This year and 1989 are the only races where there hasn't been a fatality amongst the competitors.

Ellen has had huge French support in an event which is dominated by the French.

Why? Well, she's good at single-handed sailing, which the French regard as something of a black art.

She learnt the French language, gets on with people and is very personable. They call her 'La Petit Anglaise'.

Ellen MacArthur
Ellen at sea with Kingfisher
I stood on her boat as she left. There were 200 people on board, and all of them were in tears.

I spent the afternoon watching Ellen's on-board tapes, the interviews he'd one with herself during the race.

She's gone through some incredible things, and completely broke down in some interviews.

A lot of us would fear the isolation, but she fears someone overtaking her far more.

She was most stressed when she thought she'd made a bad tactical error - at those points, she was unable to sleep or eat.

It was her burning desire to be at the front of the fleet that kept her going.


Her achievements put her on par with the absolute best
Richard Simmonds
She is ferociously competitive. Like Ben Ainslie, she's quiet and unassuming on the quayside but a different animal out on the boat.

I was concerned her achievements might have been dismissed as finishing 'just' second.

Thankfully that hasn't happened. People have realised the phenomenal scope of what Ellen has done.

Sir Francis Chichesters, Ben Ainslie, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston - her achievements put her on par with the absolute best.

She possesses something not all sportsmen have - the ability to engage and connect - in press conferences, with her fans, in the hospitals for the terminally ill she visited before she left.

I have seen it here in Les Sables d'Olonne - there have been hundreds of people following her everywhere she goes.

She has proved that whoever you are, and whatever background you have, if go at something with passion, you can achieve your goal.

Ellen MacArthur in the Vendee Globe race

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