Olympian held in highest regard
Eugene “Penny” Simmons paid a heart-warming tribute to Kirk Cooper, his late Olympic Games team-mate and fellow Bermuda Sports Hall of Famer.
Cooper, who represented Bermuda at three Olympics during a distinguished career, died last weekend aged 86.
“Kirk was a good sailor and generally a good guy,” Simmons said.
“He was a good skipper; quiet and no shouting and all that nonsense, so he was a good guy to sail with. They were great experiences.”
Simmons, a six-times International One-Design world champion and Pan American Games silver medal-winner, served as crew for Cooper at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics in Tokyo and Mexico where they competed in the one-design Dragon Keelboat.
Cooper came close to winning a medal at the 1964 Games after finishing 58 points shy of the third and final spot-on the podium.
“Every time I think about [Tokyo] I wonder just how close we came to winning a medal [bronze],” Simmons said.
“We should have won a medal. Early on in the regatta we had a first and a second and were up in the running. But in the last race or two of the regatta we didn’t do quite as well and made a few mistakes.
“With a little changes here and there you often think back on these things and think about what you could have done.”
Cooper purchased a new boat for the 1968 Olympics but did not fare as well as he had in Tokyo.
“He bought a new Dragon but we just weren’t able to get going the way we did in 1964 with the old boat,” Simmons said. “We probably would have been better off keeping the old boat.”
Cooper and his crew finished thirteenth out of 23 countries.
“The competition was keen and we were sailing out of Acapulco in the Pacific and the winds were light to moderate and sort of a sloppy type of sea condition,” Simmons added. “The conditions really weren’t to our liking but it went off reasonably well.”
Cooper switched from the Dragon to the Soling class for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where Simmons competed as a skipper in the Dragon.
It proved to be a proud moment for the local sailing community as Cooper was Bermuda’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony.
“It was a very proud moment for me and quite an emotional event walking around the stadium with all the people and the other athletes from different sports,” Simmons recalled. “It’s quite a feeling when you do that sort of thing.”
Cooper finished fifteenth among the 26-boat fleet.
“It was good but we could have done better with more time,” said Simmons, who finished thirteenth in the Dragon class.
“In those days we really couldn’t afford to ship boats abroad and take part in all these regattas which the kids do these days. That’s a big help in the long run; getting used to the boats and the conditions and different competition.”
Simmons and Cooper also sailed together once in the Newport Bermuda Race when they literally had the wind removed from their sails.
“We got down off the north of Bermuda in third place in our class and in those days the US Coast Guard used to fly out and pinpoint where all the boats were,” Simmons added.
“After being third in our class, 90 miles offshore, the wind dropped out to absolute calm and we sat in one spot for seven hours. We could see boats on the horizon moving along in a nice little breeze and we just sat and waited for the wind to come our way, so I decided that wasn’t my type of racing.”
Simmons also recalls Cooper serving as Bermuda’s first juror at the America’s Cup in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1983.
“That had to be quite experience for him and that was the year that the Aussies won it,” he said.
Cooper was inducted in the Bermuda Sports Hall in 2005.
“He was respected by everybody and had done quite a bit of ocean racing,” said Simmons, who had the same honour bestowed upon him four years later. “That also had to be something very special for him.”