Exmouth Olympians set a course for Rio 2016
PUBLISHED: 16:28 02 April 2013 | UPDATED: 16:28 02 April 2013
Copyright Richard Langdon
Exmouth Olympians Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have vowed to put a winter of setbacks behind them as they this week kick off their road to Rio 2016 and another shot at Olympic sailing gold.
The former World and European Champions, who sail in the high performance 49er class, will be back in competitive action this week for the first time since the London 2012 Games, when they take to the waters of Palma Bay, Majorca, for the Princess Sofia Trophy – the first European leg of the 2013 ISAF Sailing World Cup Series (April 1-6).
Morrison and Rhodes represented Great Britain for the second time at an Olympic Games this summer, improving on their ninth place in Beijing to finish fifth on the home waters of Weymouth and Portland.
Although disappointed to have missed out on the podium places, Morrison reflects on a much more positive Games experience than at their debut Olympics back in 2008.
“I genuinely think that we were good enough to win a medal, and in China I didn’t think that,” the 34-year-old helmsman explains.
“I think I feel a lot more comfortable with ourselves now than we did after China. It’s sport, isn’t it? We were desperate to win a medal, and you can very confidently say we were good enough to win a medal, but we didn’t. We made a couple of mistakes in London that ultimately were the difference.”
Morrison continued: “The Olympics is a pretty rare opportunity. It’s a special privilege and an honour, and a responsibility, but I think Ben and I can hold our heads high and feel that we did a pretty good job of it this time.”
The duo’s Beijing disappointment weighed heavily at the start of their 2012 campaign, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2011, when the pair started working with new coach Paul Brotherton, that they started to recognise the impact it was having on their sailing.
“From Beijing until the summer of 2011, I don’t know that we were really enjoying it – I think we just did it because we had to. It was fuelled by a negativity,” Morrison recalls.
“We had a really hard time with Ben at the Perth 2011 World Championships, and that four years was a bit interrupted by injury – Ben’s been through some pretty hard times with his body, so it was tough, whereas I think that last six months or so of our London campaign was really good fun. We really enjoyed the challenge, we loved it and it’s a privilege to represent your country and a privilege to get to go sailing, which is what I love to do.
“Maybe for a little while that got lost – it became hard work and it became a chore, whereas in that last period I really enjoyed it and although we didn’t get the result in London there were an awful lot of really good things. I felt like we were in a place where we were getting better and better and learning stuff, but enjoying it again.”
It’s this rekindled passion for the sport they both love, and the steely resolution that they can and will regain the form which saw them win three back-to-back World Championship medals that drives the friends forward into their Rio 2016 campaign and a third shot at a coveted Olympic gold.
But the start to the new Olympic cycle has not been without its challenges, with the withdrawal of long-term supporter G4S, and injuries to Rhodes’s toe and back meaning their winter training has been less than optimum.
“We’re in a tricky position as unfortunately we’re now without an absolutely amazing sponsor in G4S,” Morrison explains. “UK Sport, the National Lottery and the British Sailing Team have been a huge backer of us over the years, and as much as that supports you, you need extra money to be able to go from an excellent programme to a world-beating programme.
“For six years we were able to run a world-beating programme thanks to the help we got from G4S. They obviously had some well publicised troubles in the summer, which for us was gutting because we know what an amazing company and what fantastic group of people they are that work there.
“So things right now are very tight, financially it’s going to be hard unless we can drum up a little bit of extra support. Obviously in this financial climate that’s not very easy, but luckily, being from the South West, there’s often a lot of support down there and hopefully we can galvanise a few troops to come and join the journey. The road to Rio will be a lot of fun. We’re really fired up.”
With Rhodes’s intensive rehabilitation meaning a lay-off from sailing during the winter training months, the pair know that they’re not starting the Palma World Cup regatta in the best possible form – but Morrison’s eyes are on a bigger prize, and believes that their long-standing partnership and experience will ensure calm heads prevail.
“For us this year’s about doing well at the World Championships in September,” he explains. “There are a lot of regattas along the way, a lot of stepping stones. If you look at the example set last time by [Olympic gold medallist] Nathan Outteridge then you need to be turning up at these events and putting a stamp on them.
“Realistically we’re going to struggle to put a stamp on this event, and probably the next one in Hyeres, but come later in the summer at Sail for Gold in Weymouth, and the European Championships by then we’ll hopefully be up to a better standard and can look to lay down a bit of a marker.”
“We want to be winning things,” says Morrison, matter-of-factly. “It’s about racing [gold medallist] Nathan Outteridge and [silver medallist] Pete Burling and beating those guys. For half the regatta in London we were more than capable of that on the bigger racecourses, and the racecourse that normally would have suited us the most, we misjudged.
“That’s a real shame, but we’ve got a few years to put that right and make sure that when we do get to Rio, they’re scared of us, we’re the ones who are expected to win and the press are writing about us like they wrote about Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah, or Nathan Outteridge.
“Hopefully we can make that happen.”
Morrison and Rhodes will be in action at the Princess Sofia World Cup regatta from 1-6 April. To follow their progress visit www.britishsailingteam.com or on Twitter @BritishSailing