Video: 40 years ago, the Olympic flame was lit in Pirita

The Olympic Flame in Tallinn.
The Olympic Flame in Tallinn.

On July 20, at 4.22 p.m., 40 years will have passed exactly from the moment when 17-year-old Estonian sailor Vaiko Vooremaa lit the fire of the XXII Olympic Games sailing regatta in Tallinn.

The sailing regatta took place from July 22 to August 2 in Pirita as part of the 1980 Summer Olympics which were awarded to Moscow and the Soviet Union.

The Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK) said the regatta comprised of six sailing competitions on the Gulf of Tallinn, the busiest yacht competition was Finn where sailors from 21 countries participated.

Only 23 countries participated in the regatta (153 sailors with 83 yachts) and only 17 of them were competing under their own flag. The medals were won by athletes from 12 countries.

Eighty nations were represented at the Moscow games – the smallest number since 1956. Led by the United States, 66 countries boycotted the games entirely because of the Soviet–Afghan War. 

Arnold Green was the chairman of the regatta organizing committee and the opening and closing ceremony took place at the Tallinn Olympic Sailing Center. The ceremony was directed by Mikk Mikiver (1937-2006).

The mascot of the sailing regatta was the seal pup called Vigri. The seal pup was one of the first characteristics of the area of the Olympic Games. The puppet was completely different from the main mascot of the games which was the bear Misha. It is thought that name "Vigri" came from a Saare county man.

Vigri, the most famous seal pup puppet in Estonia Source: Estonian Olympic and Sport Museum

How did Tallinn become a city of the Olympic Games?

On September 14, 1971, the Soviet Olympic Committee approved a proposal by the Moscow city government to run for the Summer Olympics in 1980. A few weeks later, Tallinn city government decided to launch an application for Tallinn to gain the status of a regatta city. The capital of Estonia, Tallinn, would only be chosen if Moscow was elected as an Olympic city.

The management of the International Sailing Federation discussed for the first time about holding the regatta in Tallinn in the spring of 1974. Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Sochi, Sevastopol and Tuapse also applied to be a regatta venue on an equal level with Tallinn. The choice was made in favor of Tallinn as the bay was suitable for sailing and Baltic regattas had been held there previously.

Tallinn was a suitable city because there were no disturbing currents in the Gulf of Tallinn and Naissaar and Aegna, two islands in northern Estonia, protected the bay from high waves. The bay is about 30 to 40 meters deep, with a sandy seabed and shallow shores. The races were quite close to the sailing center.

From October 21 to October 25, the International Olympic Committee met in Vienna, Austria to decide on the venue for the 1980 Summer Olympic Games. In addition to Moscow, Russia, Los Angeles, U.S., was also a candidate for the Olympic city, but in a secret ballot, members of the Olympic Committee decided to vote for Moscow on October 23, 1974.

Listen to the interview with Vaiko Vooremaa here (link in Estonian).


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein

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