Though violence wreaked havoc at the Munich Olympics, the Games as such proved to be a valuable experience for champion sailor Soli Contractor. Fortunately, he was nowhere near the Olympic village when the incident happened.

Soli Contractor, one of India's first Olympic sailors, remembers the day when violence ripped apart and ruined the 1972 Munich Olympics. Fortunately, he was nowhere near the Olympic village when the incident happened.

He was at Kiel, venue of the yachting competition, 500 miles away. “We were clueless when it happened, as we were all sailing,” he remembers. “It was unprecedented. When we came back at around 5 p.m., there was a security cordon around the area. We were shocked to see footage of the attacks on television. It was a sad day. The German people were really upset as this was the first Olympics taking place in their country after the Second World War.”

Contractor, who dominated Indian sailing in the 1960s and 70s, says Munich was a valuable learning experience. Taking part in the Flying Dutchman class along with Ashar Hussein, Contractor and Hussein just about managed to finish all the races. Contractor was impressed with what he saw in Germany, its sailing infrastructure, the top sailors and how they prepared for the events.

When he returned to India, he gave a detailed report to the Yachting Association of India (YAI) on the road map to the future. Contractor feels that since then there has been a method to the YAI's planning. “I think after the 1972 Olympics, we started to plan and train systematically,” he says.

At 72, Contractor is remarkably fit and, if not for a problem with the mast, could have performed well in the UNIFI Capital Masters Regatta (for those over age 30 years) held in Chennai a couple of weeks ago.

Understandably, during the prize distribution function at the Madras Gymkhana Club, the three-time National champion was the centre of everybody's attention, something he handled with wonderful poise.

Regular sailing keeps him in good shape and he has retained his involvement with the sport by running the Ava Marine Services whose main focus is consulting, managing, maintaining and operating motor/sailing Yachts and other water craft on behalf of owners. On and off, he trains school children at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club. “Of course, there's a lot of joy in teaching children,” says Contractor, a bronze medallist in the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games and twice winner in the South Asian championship in 1969 and 1970.

At present, a Government Observer at the YAI, Contractor feels the need of the hour is competent foreign coaches for the Indian teams, benevolent sponsors for the sport, and providing the best sailors with exposure abroad. “To start with, Singapore is a good case study, a good example. They have done quite a bit in this area of sport,” he says.

At the function in the Madras Gymkhana Club, Contractor urged the organisers to conduct more races for veterans so that people like him could take part. Certainly, the urge to compete and win remains intact for the grand old man of Indian sailing.