Allison Blair Jolly
“The more you put yourself out there. The more racing you do. The better you get.”
August 4, 1956 -
Birthplace: St. Petersburg, Florida
Allison Jolly and her crew Lynne Jewell were the first women to win a Gold Medal in sailing in the modern Olympic Games dating back to 1896. Jolly grew up in St. Petersburg, Fl. and started sailing at the age of 10. She was an All American sailor at Florida State University. She won the Women’s Collegiate National Championship in 1975 and again in 1976. She was named Yachtswoman of the Year in 1976 after winning the Adams Cup and was presented the award again (along with Jewell) after the Olympics in 1988.
Winning an Olympic medal is an important accomplishment but being the first woman to skipper and become an Olympic Champion is historic. Jolly was strong throughout the Olympic regatta on the waters off Pusan, South Korea in September of 1988. In the first four races, she and Jewell had finishes of 3-1-1-2 in the seven-race series. In Race 5 the Americans were disqualified for an incident with the French. Jolly had made a quick tack to stay clear and capsized in the process. The French protested and the International Jury ruled in the French team’s favor. In Race 6 Jolly came back with a second-place finish. The Americans were in good shape going into the final race and needed 14th place finish to guarantee a Gold Medal.
The final race was marred by 30-knot winds. It was a survival contest. The jib halyard started to slip down and the boat was sailing slowly. After considerable debate, the Americans decided to lower the jib and try to make a repair. It would be a dangerous move when the rig went slack in the huge waves. Jolly braced her foot against the mast while Jewell made the fix. When they got back underway the pair were nearly in last place in the 21 boat fleet. With two legs to sail, they had to pass 7 boats to climb back in to first in the standings. At the windward mark, with the wind now howling at 35 knots, Jolly called for a spinnaker set. They were the only 470 in the fleet to risk flying the spinnaker. Their years of heavy wind training paid off. They ended up ninth in the race and secured the Gold Medal.
Jolly continued racing for the next 10 years winning championships in 470s and Fireballs. In 2010 she was elected as President of the US 470 Class Association. In 2016 she was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. She has been the long-time sailing coach for the University of South Florida and hosted the Intercollegiate National Sailing Championship in 2013. Jolly says, “I love coaching. It is a huge responsibility, and yet an opportunity as well. I am often the adult person they see the most for 4 years.”
— Gary Jobson