Arguably The Bahamas’ most legendary sports figure ever is celebrating a significant milestone this year.
Sir Durward Knowles, still functioning well at 96, will be honored later this year, along with his one-man crew in star class sailing from the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. It’s been 50 years since Sir Durward and the late Cecil Cooke sailed to the country’s first Olympic gold medal, and the most esteemed Bahamian remembers it as if it was just yesterday.
Sir Durward said yesterday that he remembers every tack and every race of the seven-race series in 1964.
He and Cooke accumulated 5,664 points in the star class sloop ‘Gem’ in the choppy waters of Sagami Bay, just off the coast of Enoshima a small island which is a part of the territory of Japan. The United States won the silver medal that year, and Sweden finished third. A total of 17 nations took part in the event.
The actual date of Knowles and Cooke’s golden victory is October 23, 1964, and through the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) in conjunction with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, an array of activities and festivities are planned leading up to that date this year. The festivities will culminate with a gala luncheon on October 23.
Also, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has designed a special award to commemorate this grand occasion.
“I remember everything about the races, what position we were in and how it developed, and I have to thank God for that,” said Sir Durward yesterday. “It’s a great feeling. I just want to thank you for recognizing us for what we have done, and to celebrate 50 years since we won the gold medal. Thank God I’m still alive to see it.”
Knowles said that he certainly couldn’t accomplish the spectacular feat without crew member Cooke, so he takes great honor in being recognized with him on this momentous occasion.
“He was the life of the party,” said Knowles. “Also, I have to pay respects to Sloane Farrington and the other crew members who I sailed with over the years. Sloane and Cecil are no longer with us. The Lord has kept me alive for 96 years, with the power of remembering, and I’m grateful for that. I appreciate all that is going on. Thanks to everyone for being here.”
At 96, Sir Durward is the second oldest Olympian still alive. He won the country’s first Olympic medal – a bronze – with Farrington at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. It was eight years later when he and Cooke were welcomed to the finish line with the words: ‘Well done, Bahamas’, signifying the country’s first Olympic gold medal.
“‘What a time! Those days when you win, they would throw you overboard and me and the water don’t associate. Cecil went in the water so I had to go in,” said Knowles. “It was a happy time. We wanted the whole Bahamas to be with us.”
Originally, Knowles was expected to travel with Farrington to those 1964 Olympics, but ended up with a more than capable replacement in Cooke.
Cooke, who will be honored posthumously this year, passed away in 1983 due to complications from a tragic car accident. He and his wife died in that crash. Their daughter, Sandra Cooke, was present for yesterday’ announcement, and said that on behalf of her family, she would like to thank the BOC and the ministry for coming together to honor her father and Sir Durward this year.
“I am totally overwhelmed by this. It’s been a long time coming but we are very grateful that you are doing this, to showcase our heroes in this country,” she said. “Also, I want to say thank you to Sir Durward for taking my father that year.”
BOC President Wellington Miller said that he is extremely happy to be presiding over the committee which is responsible for the planning of the activities to honor these great Bahamian sports icons.
“This is a celebration of a most significant milestone in the history of sports in this country,” said Knowles. “It was a sweet victory for The Bahamas. Sir Durward won the bronze in 1956 but he wasn’t satisfied until he won the gold. We expect to host several functions to celebrate throughout the course of the year. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Durward and the family of the late Cecil Cooke for bringing home this first gold medal. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but they got the job done because of hard work and determination. It was a great victory, and we want the whole Bahamas to share this accomplishment with you and Cecil Cooke.”
Representing the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, Sports Director Timothy Munnings said that it is their distinct pleasure to have this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of Sir Durward and Cecil Cooke.
“That golden accomplishment has served as a platform for many other exploits,” said Munnings. “Sir Durward has gone on to support many other sporting disciplines, financially and otherwise. His contribution to national development has been extensive. We invite the entire Bahamas to join the Bahamas Olympic Committee and the ministry in recognizing this significant accomplishment.” Munnings, an Olympian himself, said that he knows the hard work and skill that is required to achieve any medal, so to take it a step further and grab the gold must be significantly more challenging. Munnings won bronze as a part of The Bahamas’ 4×400 meters (m) relay team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
On behalf of V. Alfred Gray, the Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources & Local Government, with responsibility for regattas, Rev Dr. Phillip McPhee, a consultant in the ministry, said yesterday that Sir Durward was like an icon and a father to everything in the sailing community, and he congratulates him and Cooke for everything that they would have accomplished.
“Sir Durward’s achievements over the many years brought tremendous attention to The Bahamas,” said McPhee. “We are proud of him, and today, we want him to know much we appreciate him. To you Sir Durward and to Cecil Cooke, we want to say to you, to your families, for allowing these two men to go out there and make The Bahamas so proud. Sailors and sailing enthusiasts from all over The Bahamas will join the Bahamas Olympic Committee and the ministry in this grand celebration, and we pray that as we celebrate, somewhere along the line, there will be a sloop race in honor of Sir Durward in Montagu Bay.
Even today, he continues to give to ensure that everything goes well in youth development, and we thank him for that.”
Sir Durward is one of a few sailors worldwide who has won every major championship in the star class. In Montagu Bay alone, he has won four major international championships. He was the Star World Champion in 1947 and had an Olympic career that spanned 40 years, from 1948 to 1988, making a total of eight Olympic appearances.
“It took me a long time to do it, but that is something that I am very proud about,” said Sir Durward.
Lori Lowe, the president of the Bahamas Sailing Association (BSA), also spoke yesterday, lauding Sir Durward for his many accomplishments.
“On behalf of the Bahamas Sailing Association, I would like to recognize the accomplishments of Sir Durward and Cecil Cooke. They provide our junior sailors with something to aspire toward,” said Lowe. “Hopefully we could have someone who could live up to the same level of sporting ability at the Olympics that Sir Durward and Cecil Cooke displayed… bring our country another medal in the Olympics in sailing. I just want to thank Sir Durward for his assistance toward the youth sailing programs, and in particular, for his name to the fun run/walk that we started last year.”
Sir Durward has been a part of numerous civic groups and organizations including the Rotary Club of East Nassau, One Bahamas and the Bahamas Association for the Physically Disabled (BAPD) just to name a few. His second book is expected to be on the shelves in short order. Sir Durward’s first book ‘Driven by the Stars’ was published six years ago. Sir Durward was knighted in 1996, and awarded The Bahamas’ Order of Merit Award in 1997.
As for the significant milestone signifying 50 years since the golden accomplishment, a commemorative booklet will be produced, detailing how the 1964 gold medal was won. Included in the booklet will be a listing of the other accomplishments of Sir Durward and Cecil Cooke. Remarkably, it took another 36 years for The Bahamas to win another gold medal at the Olympics, courtesy of the ‘Golden Girls’ in Sydney, Australia.
Also yesterday, Sir Durward presented a check for $5,000 to help defray the costs of the All Andros and Berry Islands Regatta, set for July 11-14, in the waters of Morgan’s Bluff, North Andros.
The Nassau Guardian
Caption: Sir Durward Knowles, center, will be honored this year, along with the late Cecil Cooke. It was 50 years ago when the duo won the country’s first Olympic gold medal, in star class sailing, at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. At left is Cooke’s daughter, Sandra Cooke, and at right is Sports Director Timothy Munnings.
NOTE: Sir Durward Knowles was selected to be photographed for The Bahamian Project.