Until 11 weeks before the Games, the selectors still could not decide between four hot British crews for the 49er slot in Team GBR. They finally plumped for a crew with youthful ambition combined with bitter experience, reports Matthew Sheahan
There is nothing quite like failure to inspire success, and there is nothing like the Olympics to learn how to deal with real pressure. Stevie Morrison, son of designer Phil Morrison, and Ben Rhodes have been close friends since childhood and have raced together for 16 years. They grew up in Exmouth and now live almost next door to each other in the same town. They know each other inside out and are witty, chatty and disarmingly frank about anything you care to ask.
Now in their early thirties, with two decades of racing experience, they can look back at their previous Beijing Olympic programme and see that it was the lowest point of their sailing careers.
Winning the 49er World Championships in 2007 and coming 2nd in the 2008 worlds had put them among the favourites for a medal in Qingdao. But despite leading overall on the first day they plummeted to 9th by the end. By their standards and expectations, it was a disaster.
“We learnt a lot from that experience,” says helmsman Stevie Morrison. “As you build up through your campaign you rely heavily on your plan and the big support structure around you as a team, but at some point you’re on your own. I think we were overwhelmed by the occasion at times.”
The pressure of expectation also played a part in their downfall.
“Until that point our game had generally always been on the up,” adds Ben Rhodes. “We weren’t used to losing, even though there were conditions in China that we were concerned about. This time around we have a better idea of what we’re in for and there is no condition that we’re worried about racing in.”
Gaining the British place has been a major challenge this time. With three other aspiring 49er teams pushing hard for the place, selectors were forced to keep trials running until just 11 weeks before the Games. Yet Morrison and Rhodes appeared to handle the pressure well, rising to the occasion when it mattered and in doing so demonstrating one of the key lessons they believe they have learnt since 2008.
Apart from being the longest sailing partnership in the 2012 GBR team and having a talent reflected in their consistent top ten performance over the past five years, there is another important ingredient that cements their campaign: their genuine love of the sport and the industry, along with a sincere appreciation of their good fortune.
A bewildered look sweeps across their faces when I ask about their Plan B, until they realise they are allowed to consider sailing-related occupations. Then you can’t stop them.
Combining the ambition of youth with the knowledge of experience, Morrison and Rhodes have grown and matured since 2008 and now they are here for one thing – a medal.