Hans Marius Fogh
Born: March 8, 1938 (Rødovre, Denmark)
Died: March 14, 2014 (Toronto)
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1985)
Canadian Amateur Sports Hall of Fame (1986)
Etobicoke (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame (1996)
By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail, April 12, 2014
The yacht Canada II had a healthy lead on an American boat in the sea off Fremantle, Australia, when the wind ripped a four-metre tear in the mainsail.
The sail needed a fix on the fly. Hans Fogh, the crew’s navigator and tactician, climbed into the bosun’s chair before being hauled up near the end of the boom, where he used needle and thread in a desperate bid to repair the sail.
Fogh was 48 years old that day and he remained a competitive sailor for nearly three more decades before dying in Toronto in March, aged 76.
The sailor was a six-time Olympian and a two-time medal winner, claiming a silver for his native Denmark in 1960 and a bronze for his adopted land of Canada in 1984. The 24-year stretch between a first and second medal is the longest in Olympic history.
Praised as a cool and practical sailor, Fogh won four world championships (twice each in the Soling and Flying Dutchman classes), four European championships (three Soling, one Flying Dutchman), and four North American championships (all Soling), the most recent of those coming in 2013 on Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, N.Y. He also won races aboard Finns, Stars and Etchells.
An ambitious competitor on the water, Fogh’s technical expertise made him a force on land. Soon after arriving in Canada, he created a sail for the prototype of a new dinghy designed by Canadians Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce. The Laser, as it was eventually named, is a one-person craft whose simplicity and popularity led to its own introduction into Olympic competition.
A compact, diminutive figure at 5-foot-7 (1.71-metres), Fogh showed daring at sea.
“He was a risk taker,” said John Kerr of Midland, Ont., who joined Fogh and Steve Calder in winning a bronze medal in Soling at the 1984 Olympics. “There was nothing he wouldn’t try on a boat to make it go faster.”
Fogh displayed an enviable ability to assess three dimensions while sailing, Kerr said, calculating strategy even as he evaluated the wind in the sails, the waves against the boat, and the force of the current underneath.
“He was a gifted downwind sailor,” said Calder. “He had a feel for the boat and a nose for the wind like no one else.”
Hans Marius Fogh was born on March 8, 1938, at Rødovre, a Danish town outside Copenhagen. As a boy, he spent summers at a cottage owned by relatives. “I was always playing with my boats in the water and going out on the boat with my aunt and uncle, so even at a young age I felt that someday I would have a career on the water,” he once told the sports writer Bob Duff. He graduated from a rowboat to a sailboat and at age 17 bought his first dinghy with money earned from working as a gardener in the family’s greenhouse.
When he needed a new sail, his father bought some from Paul Elvstrøm, an Olympian who had just launched his own sailmaking company. The younger Fogh joined Elvstrøm’s firm in 1960, becoming a protege of the Danish sporting legend.
Both men competed in the Olympic regatta that year in the Bay of Naples. The owner won a gold medal for a fourth consecutive Olympics. Competing in a different class, Fogh made his Olympic debut as helmsman of Skum, a Flying Dutchman with Ole Erik Gunnar Petersen as crew. The Danish duo won two of seven races to claim the silver medal behind a Norwegian boat.
In 1962, Fogh, “a fresh-faced and gee-whiz sailor” in the words of one of his competitors, took the tiller while his boss handled tactics and wind shifts as the crewman in the Flying Dutchman world championship. Reporters covering the regatta on Tampa Bay off St. Petersburg, Fla., noted the six-year-old Danish boat looked “battered, beaten and nicked with shell ice marks from winter sailing.” The third of seven races took place in gusting winds, causing six of 19 boats to topple into the choppy waters. The Danes held off a challenge from an Australian boat to claim the world title.
“I have never seen a Dutchman as fast as the Australian boat, but their tactics were poor,” Fogh told Sports Illustrated magazine after the race. “The race was our good tactics against their fast boat.”
Fogh returned to the Olympics in 1964, guiding Miss Denmark 1964 to victory in the the fourth of seven races in Sagami Bay off the coast of Japan. The Danes finished fourth in the competition.
The Danish sailor withdrew in the midst of the 1968 Olympic regatta on Acapulco Bay to return home following the death of his father. Four years later, he finished a disappointing seventh in Kiel, Germany, his last of four Olympics representing his homeland and by which time he was living in Toronto.
When not on the water, Fogh continued working at Elvstrøm Sails, becoming a production manager before wanderlust and a desire to be his own boss brought him to Canada.
Paul Henderson, a Toronto sailor and Olympian, had urged Mr. Fogh to immigrate, partly out of friendship and partly out of self-interest. The high quality sails needed for racing were not made here, so Canadians bought them in the United States before smuggling them across the border to avoid an onerous duty tax. A domestic manufacturer was needed.
In his eulogy for Fogh, Mr. Henderson told a story about the Danish sailor’s immigration interview. The officer asked, “Mr. Fogh, how are you going to earn a living in Canada?”
“Sailmaker,” he replied.
“Sale maker? Canada has no need of those,” the officer replied.
Henderson piped up. “Sailmaker.”
“Oh, Mr. Fogh,” the officer said, “Canada has no category for that.”
Henderson then said the young would-be immigrant had been an apprentice gardener in his native land.
“Gardener!” exclaimed the officer. “Canada needs those.”
Fogh opened a loft in a former ski-jacket factory on Pelham Avenue in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. He sewed Elvstrøm sails and designed a sail of his own for the Laser, the new dinghy which he also tested on the water. Its success contributed to the growth of his company and became a landmark in the development of the domestic marine manufacturing industry. The addition of the Laser class to the Olympic lineup in 1996 only added to the popularity of the craft. Fogh also designed the Laser Radial, a smaller version he originally intended for his son’s use which is now the model used by women in the Olympics.
Over time, the company name became Fogh Sails and, later, North Sails Fogh Ltd.
The yachtsman continued to compete for Denmark while living in Canada, claiming a second Flying Dutchman world title in 1973 and a Soling world championship the following year.
After he gained Canadian citizenship in 1975, Fogh became a member of the national team as Canada prepared to play host to its first Summer Games. In May, 1976, Fogh joined with Evert Bastet, a Venezuelan-born sailor who had moved to Quebec as a boy, in winning the European Flying Dutchman championship at Hyères, France. The victory came in dramatic fashion, as the Canadian sailors jumped from third to first place with a victory in the final race.
The triumph was promising coming just three months before the Olympic regatta on Lake Ontario near Kingston, Ont. With a home country cheering for Canadian medals, the Flying Dutchman sailors were in contention for a podium finish going into the final race. A poor, sixth-place finish in the last event allowed a Brazilian boat to slip ahead for a bronze medal. With Canada boycotting the 1980 Moscow Games, Fogh had eight long years to contemplate a disappointing fourth-place finish.
By 1984, Fogh had moved into a larger craft. He was skipper of a Soling crew with Kerr and Calder in the Pacific Ocean off Long Beach, Calif. They won the third of seven races, but finished in fourth place, yet another frustrating competition for Fogh, who referred to fourth-place finishers as winners of the “leather medal” in comparison to gold, silver, and bronze.
“We were all pretty dejected,” Calder recalled. “It was a pretty damned somber sail back to the dock. Johnny (Kerr) and I were especially bummed for Hans.”
Later that day, the rules committee decided on its own to examine the actions of the second-place finisher, one of 78 protests filed over six classes in seven days of racing. The committee decided the Norwegian crew had violated the rules by deliberating rocking their boat. They were penalized back to fifth place, floating the Canadian crew into the bronze-medal position.
“I know how they must feel,” Fogh said at the time of the Norwegians. “They’re young people and it’s a lot harder when you’re young. Now I can turn around and tell them, ‘There’s lots of time, because even at my age you can win medals.’ ”
At age 46, Fogh had claimed a second Olympic medal 24 years after winning his first.
The Soling medals were presented by Constantine II, the deposed monarch of Greece. As Crown Prince Constantine in 1960, he had won an Olympic gold medal in the Dragon class. The former king recognized Fogh from those earlier games. In the solemn moment of placing a medal around Fogh’s neck, Constantine congratulated him by saying, “Not bad for an old fart.”
In 2009, he initiated the Hans Fogh Endowment Fund to support sailors, coaches and officials in Ontario.
Fogh died in Toronto of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease six days after his 76th birthday. He leaves Kirsten, his wife of 49 years; two sons; five grandchildren; a brother; and, two sisters. He was predeceased by a sister.