A journey to Weymouth in Dorset reveals not only what the Olympics mean to England’s outlying cities financially, but also how this international event changes communities forever.
Situated about three hours south of London by car, Dorset is a seaside resort region – an escape for weary city dwellers and a special day out for the UK’s village dwellers. But, when the UK began its seven-year ramp up to host the 2012 Games, it was clear the town of Weymouth had the perfect conditions to host the Summer Olympics’ sailing events.
Weymouth sits in the southernmost portion of Dorset along England’s southwestern coast. Situated between Cornwall and Land’s End at the the very bottom of the country to the west and Torquay in the English Riviera to the east, Weymouth and its neighboring community of Portland were always famous for their shale beaches and limestone quarries. The stone used to build Buckingham Palace came from Portsmouth – as did some of the rock holding the United Nations together in New York.
However, the region is known worldwide for The Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site featuring millions of fossils anyone can collect and take home. A seven foot long Pliosaur skull discovered on the beaches in 2010 now sits in a nearby museum.
Now, Weymouth is at the center of the Olympic sailing world for the next several days as its perfect conditions host the entirety of the Games’ mix of wind and water. The seaside village is situated on a sheltered bay at the mouth of the River Wey, and the surrounding hillsides channel powerful gusts into the natural bowl – forging perfect sailing conditions.
To show off what the community managed to put together for the event, local officials rounded up journalists on hand to cover the athletics for a tour of the new Weymouth and Portland.
According to Jacqui Gisborne, Dorset area representative for VisitEngland and a veteran sailor herself, More than £250 million went into the region over the last seven years to get the town on its feet.
That money built an Olympic residence for sailors and their families. It built new slips and other aquatic infrastructure. Those improvement meant that Olympic sailors have been moving to and living in Weymouth for years now practicing for these games.
Most importantly for the longterm profitability of the region, a pile of pounds sterling went into the new Weymouth Sea Life Tower – a 165 ft. elevating and rotating tower ride offering 360 degree views of Weymouth Quay and the surrounding resort.
The hope is that tower will give fans a good view of the Olympic sailing during the games, while serving as a yearlong tourist attraction after the Olympic move on to different horizons.
The Games have transformed what was a quant, tourist-friendly resort town into a more modern spot on the UK map. Of course, not everyone was excited about that change.
“There were some who were resistant to the change, as there always are,” Gisborne said during the Weymouth Olympic sailing tour. “But this is an exciting time for this city – to have the world’s sailing eye focused on Weymouth.”
On that particular day of sailing, British eyes winced as news came down their 2008 Gold Medalist Paul Goodison was banged up with injuries that were almost certain to sink him in 2012.
And, as bad luck would have it, Weymouth blipped on the Olympic radar again today as a 17-year-old boy from the town was arrested and issued a warning for “malicious communications” for telling 18-year-old British swimmer Tom Daley that he let his dead father (Rob Daley) down.
After coming fourth in the men's synchronized 10m platform diving event yesterday, Daley received a Tweet saying he betrayed the memory of a father lost to brain cancer. Though the still anonymous alleged Tweeter since apologized for the message, he’s still in police custody now.
It was an ugly sideshow to the week’s sailing action in Weymouth. But, when you step onto the world stage for the Olympics, strange things can happen to small towns.