Yachting loses an Olympic Champion
9 January 2008
Australia's first Olympic yachting gold medallist Peter “POD” O'Donnell has passed away after a long battle with cancer.
O’Donnell, 68, created history at the 1964 Tokyo Games being crowned as the nation’s inaugural yachting Olympic champion alongside skipper Bill Northam (late) and crewmate Dick Sargeant in the 5.5m class.
From his humble beginnings as a 14 year old racing in the Moth class, O’Donnell went on to become one of the country’s most respected and decorated sailors winning numerous world crowns and international titles.
In his long and successful sporting career O’Donnell competed in events including the Admiral's Cup, the Trans Atlantic Race from Newport-Rhode Island to Plymouth, England and in 1962 was aboard 'Gretel' in Australia's first challenge for the America's Cup.
O’Donnell sailed on 'Southern Cross' winning the 'Coupe de France' in Germany in 1965 and on 'Stormy Petrel' winning the One Tonne Cup in New Zealand in 1970. In 1980, a year in which O’Donnell won every 'Star' class event and also the Etchell World Championships, he was awarded the prestigious title of 'Australian Yachtsman of the Year'.
During his sailing career O’Donnell has won Australian or World Championships or Olympic selection in the Etchell, Star, Dragon and 5.5 m class as well as numerous ocean racing titles.
He sailed in the first of his many Sydney to Hobart races aboard the winning yacht 'Siandra' in 1958, and in 1987 skippered 'Sovereign' for the ultimate double winning both line and handicap honours.
“Pod was one of the great pioneers of Australian yachting,” close friend and fellow Olympic and America’s Cup yachtsman Robert Thornton said.
“He didn’t need a gold medal to prove what a champion he was – his incredible natural ability and humble approach to his sport commanded the respect of both his friends and opponents alike.
“To have achieved so much in our sport is remarkable, but perhaps the thing which gave him the most pride was seeing his children learn to love sailing – and his later passion in life, horses – as much as he did.”
Following his victory aboard 'Sovereign' O’Donnell moved from Sydney to Scone and took up the country life breeding racehorses with his family.
O’Donnell is survived by his wife Barbara, children Lisa, Michelle and David and their families including his six grandchildren.