Portland’s Olympic contender Stuart Bithell is going for gold

Stuart Bithell. Picture: Robert Wilson/Skandia investment specialists

Stuart Bithell. Picture: Robert Wilson/Skandia investment specialists

First published in Weymouth and Portland Sailing Olympics and Paralympics 2012 News by

‘DARK days’ training to be an energy assessor fuelled Portland’s Olympic contender Stuart Bithell’s determination to succeed as a world-class sailor.

The bubbly rising star in the 470 men’s dinghy class was forced into ‘the real world’ for around five months back in 2009.

His boat of choice, the Tornado catamaran, had been dropped by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) from the London 2012 line up and he thought his sailing career was over.

Fast-track three years and the 25-year-old is preparing to compete at his first Olympic Games – on home waters with his best mate Luke Patience.

Bithell, of Weston, said: “If you took a snap shot to the beginning of 2009 and a snap shot of now, you’d think, ‘That was some turn around’.

“It was gutting when the Tornado got taken out of the Olympics but looking back it was a blessing in disguise.

“Then I was at a bit of a dead end, I thought I needed to join the real world so I did a few months training to be an energy assessor – very dark days on the train up to Bristol.

“I didn’t enjoy it, it felt pretty brutal, the end of my sailing career.

“But in hindsight, when I then teamed up with Luke, I was so determined to make sailing work for me, the four or five months where I did join the real world was a great kick up the behind.”

Bithell and Patience had been ‘great buddies’ since the age of 14 and had sailed against each other a lot.

In the summer of 2009, after Patience’s sailing partnership with Chris Grube had come to an end, they decided to give it a go.

“It’s stupid to think we’d gel so well and so naturally,” said Bithell.

“Both of us are doing it for the same thing, we’re both fun, easy-going characters. We work hard – there are times and places where we work bloody hard – but it’s always good fun, we keep it in perspective.

“Now it’s getting serious, we generally feel keeping it fun is a good goal to have.”

Bithell said it was common, in the past year, to see Olympic contenders working so hard and getting so wound up, risking a burn out at the big event.

He added: “Myself and Luke know what our winning formula is – stay relaxed.”

Bithell’s love of the water developed at Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club, near Rochdale through his parents Viv and Les, both second generation club members.

His early inspiration was his uncle Richard Whitworth, a Merlin Rocket national champion sailor.

Bithell said: “I wanted to be good like Uncle Rich, I thought he was cool. None of my friends at school were into sailing, they thought it was a bit weird.

“But I loved sailing and from the age of 12 or 13 I really got hooked on the racing side.”

After crewing in the Merlin Rocket dinghy, Bithell’s development years on the RYA programme saw him achieve a 420 dinghy class bronze at the Youth Worlds with friend Jonny McGovern.

After another partnership in the 420 class, he campaigned in the Tornado with John Gimson. The 470 dinghy has been Bithell’s ticket to his first Olympic Games but it has not all been plain sailing.

Team Patience-Bithell endured a testing time last year when they missed out on Olympic test event selection to Skandia Team GRB rivals Nick Rogers and Chris Grube.

Bithell said: “It certainly felt as though it was out of our hands slightly.

“London 2012 selection was dependant on their results – if they’d won it would’ve been game over.

“Luckily for us the door opened, we got another chance and we snapped up that opportunity.”

Silver at the World Championships in Perth, Australia in December secured the single Team GB 470 men’s slot and they have since claimed silver at Skandia Sail for Gold regatta – the last big event before the Games.

Bithell added: “I certainly want to achieve in sailing and win medals, that’s been my goal since the age of 18. I probably won’t be satisfied until it’s a gold one.

“We’ve got a fantastic set up here with RYA Portland House, the British performance centre, the sailing academy, it’s second to none.

“With Portland’s great harbour and Weymouth Bay, you’re not going to get much better sailing. In my spare time I enjoy windsurfing, kitesurfing and fishing.

“I'll almost definitely be based on the south coast after the Olympics.”

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