It’s just over a year to the London 2012 Games, but Britain’s top sailors are feeling the pressure as they face the selection process for the UK team. Matthew Sheahan spends time with them for the first of our Olympic features.
To see the excitement on the faces of everyday people who get to hold an Olympic medal is to witness the extraordinary power of this global accolade. Most are surprised by its weight, but all accept without question that an Olympic medal of any colour represents the ultimate in sporting achievement.
For the athletes, a medal is the culmination of the single-minded dedication required to put sport at the centre of their lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week for years, sometimes decades. This level of commitment means turning any notion of a ‘normal’ lifestyle on its head.
Ask the current sailors about their favourite non-sailing items and you’ll be met with a long silence and a blank, puzzled look. Ask about their ambitions outside Olympic success, or any notion of a ‘Plan B’ and you’ll discover that most aspire to what the rest of us might consider to be normal: a job; setting up a business or working in the City; having a family. Their favourite books are about the real world and rarely about the sporting achievements of others or novels.
But while they live their competitive lives at odds with the rest of us, they are far from aloof or removed. Confident, articulate and increasingly media- friendly, in a way that their forbearers never needed to be, they connect with the public as a natural part of their programme. Meet them in their world and you’ll find them as open and enthusiastic about their sport as any wide-eyed weekend warrior, because underneath their lean, chiselled, athletic exterior, that’s precisely what they are – enthusiasts like the rest of us.
For British Olympic sailors, the 2012 Games adds an extra dimension. Success on home soil is the ultimate achievement, which puts additional pressure on their campaigns this year as they seek a place in the British Olympic team.
Sail For Gold, the Olympic classes event which takes place at Weymouth in June, is a key point in their road to the Olympics. Win here and they will go forward to the Olympic test event in August. Lose and they’ll watch their rival take a dry run at the Games.