Tough Competition In The 470 

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By his own admission, there are worse places to be in November than basking in a balmy Western Australian summer

But chilling out and enjoying the sunshine will be the last thing on Luke Patience’s agenda as he and crewmate Stuart Bithell bid to lay down a marker to the rest of the World’s top 470 teams with success at the Perth International Regatta this week (16 – 21 November).  

Skandia Team GBR has de-camped Down Under en masse for the event, which is the warm up to next December’s ISAF Sailing World Championships.     

For most Brits, the timing of the regatta couldn’t be better as not only is it a chance to get familiar with the 2011 Worlds venue while enjoying a bit of late season competitive action but it’s also an invaluable opportunity to put in some serious hours on the water, not something that is so easy, or comfortable, to do in the UK at this time of year.  

Proving they are no flash in the pans, Patience and Bithell, who shot to prominence in August 2009 winning 470 Worlds silver on their event debut as a pair, have kept up the pressure on the 470 fleet this year claiming bronze at both Skandia Sail for Gold and the 470 Europeans, while only rudder failure when they were leading the event prevented them from picking up a second Worlds medal.  

In just 14 months, young Scotsman Luke, and his Manchester-born crew Stuart, have become not only genuine contenders for Britain’s London 2012 berth but, if selected, bona fide Olympic medal prospects.   It’s no wonder Patience is reluctant to take his foot off the pedal in Oz.  

“This regatta may be more about problem-solving, getting a feel for the venue and experiencing as many conditions as we can before next year’s Worlds but we want to make our mark on the fleet and give everyone something to think about going into next year. We might be taking a more relaxed approach the regatta as opposed to having an outcome in mind but I’ve never done a race in my whole life I’ve not tried to win and we’d certainly like to win here.  

“With Olympic selections approaching next year all I can think about is working, working, working. Rest and recuperation is so important when you’re campaigning, and we did get a couple of weeks off after the Europeans in August. But even when I do take a day off I’m always thinking there’s something I could be doing. I’m happy to sustain this momentum until the Olympics as we’re only making the sacrifices you need to for a short period yet the end result would be everything.”  

Luke admits there are moments when he does have to pinch himself at how far he and Stuart have come in such a short space of time but says they are just taking it in their stride and take a huge amount of confidence from what they have been able to achieve as a team since last August.  

He puts their success to date down to an effective and efficient working partnership where both believe 100 percent in their campaign. At the age of 24, he believes it has taken him five years of Olympic Classes campaigning to really work out how to get the best out of himself as a sailor and in Stuart he has found a crew who shares his focus and goals.  

However the pair’s rapid rise to prominence has not been without its steep learning curves with this year’s Worlds in The Hague providing arguably the most pivotal. Luke continues: “We were in gold medal position with just two races and the medal race to go when our rudder broke. That was a huge wake-up call for us; if your boat breaks you have no-one to blame but yourselves. It’s our medal at stake, our future so it’s up to us to make sure that boat is in perfect working order before we go and race.  

“It hit us hard but although it’s not an easy thing to swallow I’m a big believer in learning from mistakes and I will never fail over something so controllable again. The feeling I experienced in losing out on the chance of that medal is something I never want to feel again and it drives me every day.”  

So having declared themselves generally “extremely pleased” with their 2010 season, what of 2011?  

After Perth, the boys return to Portland, where they both now live, for a bit more training before heading off to Florida for the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta in January. With Weymouth branded by Luke as “unsailable in February”, the pair will head to Palma for training before the European racing circuit gets underway in April and the clock starts counting down to 2012 selections.  

This is when the competition between Luke and Stuart and their challengers for 470 Olympic selection - double World 470 champions Nic Asher and Elliot Willis - will really start to heat up both in training and competition.  

“Having the standard of Nic and Elliot as training partners is very motivating. They’re one of the best teams in the World, and I’d like to think they think we are up there too, so we both know that if we’re beating each other, we’re beating one of the World’s best. Whoever is the best boat in Britain is going to be close to being the World’s best and that level of training partner is something a lot of countries don’t have. We’re very fortunate to have that strength and depth in our squads in Britain and as extremely difficult as it is sometimes it’s hugely motivating. I’d never take that for granted.  

“Ultimately only one of us can go to the Olympics and of course you’re aware of that. But we’re both willing to put in the effort and commitment to keep driving each other hard so even if it isn’t you that gets to go to London 2012, Britain has still got the best chance of winning gold in the class.”  

And that is why a warm-up regatta in the Perth sunshine suddenly takes on such importance.  

“We want to go into the 2011 season as the best boat in Britain and then hopefully go into the Olympics with the reputation as the hardest boat to beat in the World so we have to get as much as possible as we can out of Perth,” Luke adds.  

"A nice tan to make everyone back home jealous will just be an added bonus!"