Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, the dynamic sailing duo who claimed silver in 470 class at the 2012 Olympic Games, are to go their separate ways in their quest for Olympic gold in Rio.
Scotsman Patience, and Bithell, from Rochdale, earned the smiles of the nation this summer with their elated celebrations on winning silver at their first Olympic Games on the waters of Weymouth and Portland.
But it’s the good friends’ determination not to settle for anything less than the top step of the podium in four years’ time which has led them to make the decision to part company for the 2016 cycle.
Body weight is a key competitive element in Olympic classes sailing, with the Skandia Team GBR pairing at the heavier end of the optimum weight for a 470 crew, at what was predominantly a windy Weymouth Games venue.
With predominantly light winds anticipated for the Rio Games, weight becomes even more of a factor.
“We’ve always been one of the heavier 470 teams on the circuit, and even with a four-year long rabbit food diet, we’re still going to be naturally too heavy as a crew to realistically be threatening for gold in Rio,” said the 26-year-old Patience, who was the first Scottish athlete to be selected for Team GB for 2012.
“We both knew it would be an issue and so it really was a no-brainer that we would need to do something differently if we’re to get onto that top step of the podium in four years’ time. We’re good mates and we both want that for each other, so although it’s been a blast and I’ll miss sailing with Luke, we know it’s the right decision to take,” said Bithell, also 26.
Bithell will step out of the 470 altogether in his bid for Rio gold, instead mounting a campaign as a helm in the high-performance 49er class with his new crew set to be announced in the new year.
“As a junior sailor and youth sailor I was always a skipper, steering the boat, so I’m following in the footsteps of my role models like Ian Walker and Sarah Ayton who both went to the Olympics as crews and then very successfully moved on to be skippers,” Bithell explained.
“I’m taking that role on and the 49er is the perfect boat for me to do that. It will reward my tactical strengths and is a very exciting new challenge.”
Patience, meanwhile, will remain in the 470 class, and is weighing up his options for a best-fit crew who can help him achieve his gold-medal ambitions.
“Stuart and I have had an amazing journey, and I’m so proud to have stood on the podium with my mate this summer,” said Patience.
“Although we won’t be sailing together towards Rio, we’re both so excited about the road ahead and want to thank everyone who’s backed us, from the RYA and Skandia Team GBR, to our sponsors and supporters, to the kids at schools who’ve written to us. It really means a lot, and we hope to go one step higher, albeit separately, in four years’ time.”
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