Shirley Robertson chats to about the Round the Island Race, and her Olympic prospects 22/6/07

Double gold medalist Shirley Robertson is undoubtedly Britain’s most successful Olympic female sailor. She won her first gold medal in the Europe dinghy at the 2000 Sydney Games, and followed that with a gold in Athens in 2004 sailing the three-person Yngling keelboat.

At 38-years-old her aim now is to make history by winning three golds in a row but as Robertson herself admits the last six month have been a bit of a struggle because not only has she entered into her Beijing Olympic campaign fairly late due to the birth of her twins (Killian and Annabel) nearly a year ago but she’s been juggling her racing career with motherhood. And it’s not over yet because in order to get to the Olympics she needs to beat her nearest rivals (former team mates including Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton) and finish in the top eight to qualify for the sole place in China for the Pre-Olympics in August. If she makes it there she then has to finish in the top six.

Fortunately however, Robertson remains incredibly calm and positive and says that despite a huge life change she’s feeling fairly relaxed, commenting: “Since the birth of the twins I’m now 25kgs lighter and have a real bounce in my step. I’m also an expert on the Teletubbies! Yes, of course it was a big change for me and sometimes I look at the babies and can’t believe they’re mine. Jamie [Boag – Shirley’s husband] is a great father and his parents play a big role in looking after the babies while I’m concentrating on my sailing. They basically live and travel with us making it possible for me to devote time to my Olympic campaign.”

While it is fairly obvious that the stress levels of entering an Olympic campaign are fairly high, it was interesting to find out how Robertson is dealing with the added pressures this time around not only with the addition of a family but with the prospect of going for a third gold medal in a row, and with former team mates – Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton (and Pippa Wilson) – a real force to be reckoned with, see previous news story here . “Each campaign has its own stress levels,” Robertson added “It’s never been an easy ride. The Olympics is a roller coaster but in many ways this campaign has been simpler because we’ve been restricted in time. For a short campaign it’s been intense. We’ve known we had to perform and because the Sarahs have been going so well we’ve had to raise our game early.”

And how threatened does Robertson feel over her closest rivals? “We can only control our own performance. What they do and how they prepare we have no influence over them, so all we can do is make sure we’re ready and that’s what we’ve done. We’re confident with the venue and we’re nearly confident with the speed and in terms of our performance we feel quite strong. If it’s strong enough to beat them then we’ll be going and if it’s not, we won’t. They are obviously quite a polished team.”

Despite the fact that she has the most important regatta in her Olympic campaign coming up in a week’s time at the ISAF World Championship Robertson will be out on the water tomorrow helming one of the Volvo J/80s againt her Yngling teammates Annie Lush and Lucy Macgregor in the JP Morgan Round the Island Race . Commenting on the race Robertson said: “I’m really looking forward to it particularly sailing the J/80. I prefer doing this race on little boats because you can really get into it; into the melee. I always feel a bit cheated if I do it on a big boat, so yes I’m really looking forward to it particularly as Jamie is sailing with me too.”

Round the Island Race completed Robertson will then head straight back to Cascais in Portugal for the final preparations for the ISAF worlds but says she can never, ever remember feeling particularly satisfied with preparations to any event, adding: “I don’t think I’ve ever felt prepared, I never feel I’ve cracked it even when I’ve won two gold medals. I’ve never felt that. I have to say that a month ago we were not at all in good shape but now we’re looking okay, it’s all started to come together in the last couple of weeks. We’re a really strong team we all get on well and work really hard. We have had a tough run over the last couple of months but in some ways you learn more from your failures than you do from your success. We now feel we’re in the position to take opportunities.”

Just one month ago Robertson and team chose to withdraw from the Breitling Olympic Regatta in Holland in order to carry out important work on their boat which, according to Robertson, was the best decision they’ve made. “?we were running out of time for Cascais and we needed to deal with changes to the boat. In many ways we were lucky last year because all the regattas leading up to this were held in very light winds and kept flagging our weaknesses and out technical problem on the boat. I think if we’d gone to the event and hiked out all week, we’d never have discovered our problems. Now we’ve made the changes we feel so much better.”

And will this be Robertson’s final attempt at the Olympics? “I really don’t know, it depends what life brings,” concluded Robertson. “There is no way now that I could spend a full four years in a campaign but I still have the energy to spend seven months doing it. Every day I get up go sailing and get on with the project but I couldn’t do that for four years. And also four years down the line I don’t know how I’m going to feel about that. I might still be up for it and the fact it’s in London. On the other hand I might be on to something else. I might be happy doing the school run. It actually depends who you’re sailing with too. This project we’re doing now has a breath of fresh air and I’m really enjoying it, so we’ll have to see.”