13 August 1980
Nick heads to Rio with the goal of becoming the most successful men’s Olympic windsurfer of all time.
Rio 2016 will be Nick’s fifth Games, having made his Olympic debut aged 19 at Sydney 2000, where he finished 16th, in the then Mistral windsurfing class. Four years later in Athens he made history in becoming the first Brit to ever win a windsurfing Olympic medal.
A switch in Olympic kit to the RS:X board was introduced for Beijing 2008. But after the bitter disappointment of taking fourth spot in China, Nick bounced back in style winning silver at London 2012. No man has ever completed the full set of Olympic medals, which is now Nick’s aim for Rio.
A dad to two young boys, Thomas and Oscar, Nick is a double RS:X World Champion, clinching gold at both the 2009 and 2013 Championships, and he also has Worlds silver (2012) and bronze (2007) medals in his extensive collection. The most experienced member of the Team GB sailors this year, Nick will be in Rio on his 36th birthday on 13 August - that is scheduled to be the reserve day before the medal race for the windsurfers.
Nick's Q&A Session
How did it all begin for you?
I expect I was responsible for getting quite excited about it all, but we just started as a family when I was probably seven. My brothers started windsurfing a bit before me, they were quite troublesome kids and it was seen as a way of getting them just doing something healthy. We had no lessons we just got thrown out there. It was quite a safe environment on a lake and that was it. I went down there after school and at weekends and just my parents just let me go. I thought I’d invented the jibe when I was a kid, but there was many things when I was learning to windsurf I thought I‘d invented! When you’re a kid there’s so many rules and I suppose when you get on the water you’re just so free. People talk a lot about it in sailing, it’s the freedom, but I think when you’re a kid it’s even more so. You really can do whatever you want and get away with it and for me that was quite a nice place to be.
At what point did you think you might be quite good?
I never thought I was that good, of course people always say you are, when you’re a young kid everything’s easy. But you’re just a kid taking up a sport at a young age and any kid taking up a sport when they’re young, they do progress very quickly. Maybe when I was 10, 11 I was pretty good, but there was loads of us, all just as good as I was, and we just all had quite a lot of fun together.
How did that turn into your first Olympics at Sydney 2000 at the age of 20?
I was windsurfing down the local club until probably until I was about 12-13, and somebody came along, a talent spotter he liked to call himself. Anyway, he took us along to our first regatta and we were quite good, all of us from my club, we started racing and of course that’s it, you’re on the circuit. From then fast-tracked all the way to the World Championships when you’re 17-18 and then by the time you get to about 18 everything becomes possible. Everything’s a reality rather than a dream. I did my Olympic trials when I was 19 which I won, and then on to Sydney. That’s crazy when you think about it isn’t it?
What are your memories of that time?
Good memories. I just saw everything as so easy. I genuinely thought I could medal, and of course looking back I probably wasn’t ready, you hadn’t done this, you hadn’t done that, you hadn’t proven yourself. It would all have been everything coming together, which it never really does. But when you’re young, everything’s happened so fast and your progression’s so fast you think in a couple of months’ time, ‘Oh I’m going to be so much better at this.’ Of course you’re not but you really believe that. I had a lot of confidence when I was young but I’d say it was all easier than it is now.
When did you realise you wanted an Olympic medal?
Not until the medal ceremonies when I saw everybody else getting the medals because that is what it’s about. At that age, right there and then, all you want is an Olympic medal and when you see everyone else like you and Ben and Perce and Iain and Mark and Simon, when they got their medals, that’s the moment, that’s the defining thing that sets all of these people apart and that’s what you want to achieve. That’s probably the moment you realise that yeah I want a medal.
How would you describe Nick Dempsey in 2016?
It depends who you talk to. Some people would say I’m quite grumpy, some would say I’m very nice and kind, other people would say I’m unapproachable, others would say I’m very approachable. I’m quite balanced, relaxed and fair. On the racecourse I’m probably not so nice. I like to think I’m fair but I’m definitely harsh, on the harsher side of fair I’d say, I’m probably not that nice to race against.
Are your dreams of gold still as all consuming going into your fifth Olympics?
It’s nowhere near as all consuming as it once was there’s just too much going on in life. The windsurfing is the easy part, the thinking about the Olympic medals is the easy part, that’s almost my release nowadays. Life’s stressful at times, it’s never windsurfing that keeps me awake at night, that’s the bit I love, it’s everything else!
I enjoy the freedom of it, that it allows me and I enjoy racing. I don’t love the training. I hate the training. I can’t wait to stop the training. There’s nothing I find rewarding about the training but the racing I love and the freedom is good as well.
Are you as competitive now as you were as that young lad in Sydney?
Nowhere near as competitive. It just doesn’t matter as much anymore because I just feel so much more at ease with it. If I have a bad day it’s not the end of the world, it’s just a bad day whereas when you’re young, it is. As you get older you understand it’s just windsurfing. I’m less competitive than I once was but still as determined I’d say, just more balanced. It probably is better for it to be all or nothing, win or lose. That probably is better but it’s not me and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t win but it doesn’t mean I’m not putting an awful lot into trying to win.
What have been your career highs and lows?
The lowest point is definitely China in 2008, finishing fourth after going into the medal race winning. That was low, that was harsh, that was hard to take. There’s been loads of good points. Winning the World Championships straight after that was good. That was at home in Weymouth in 2009 and winning the Worlds was something I’d never done before. That was kind of one of my favourite. My Olympic medals are good, but they weren’t winning. The two World Championships were both winning and there’s something special about the World Championships, they’re more for you whereas the Olympic medals are often for everyone else. It’s because they’re the ones everyone sees but actually winning the Worlds was special.
Who have been the key influences in your career?
Well, my coach for most of career was Barrie Edgington. Barrie has not an ounce of sympathy in him so you never get any sympathy, you never get any shoulder to cry on, you never get any celebratory anything if you won it was just, ‘Great, let’s go on to the next one’. It was always something more, something more, so he was always very level in keeping me driving forward and keeping everything in perspective. For him it was always about winning the Olympic Games so he was pretty good at that. Now I have Dom Tidey who’s slightly different but he’s equally as driven and he kind of keeps me balanced. He’s a very relaxing person.
What’s the RS:X class like to sail in?
It’s hard to race the RS:X, it’s quite a physical class, but the hardest thing about the RS:X is it’s difficult to control along the racecourse. You watch a fleet of Lasers start and they’ll start and they’ll stay together, you get a bit of a split. You watch the windsurfers starting and everyone just goes ‘boof’. Everywhere and in some conditions it’s impossible to control, that’s the hardest thing is managing risk on the racecourse. In terms of competitors we have the French, the Polish, the Dutch, the Greek and the Chinaman and myself, probably I’d say there’s six of us that are all capable of winning in Rio who have all won events in the past 12 months. It might be dominated by somebody but at the moment it’s open.
What’s the Rio venue like to sail in?
There are times when the frustration gets to an all-time high and you’re there and you just don’t know how to get your head round it and there are other times where you can’t put a foot wrong. It is challenging, it is really difficult. It’s a racecourse where it’s very difficult to manage risk because people do separate so much and the current is a little bit tricky but the wind is really tricky and really unstable and very hard to predict. The person that wins will be the person that gets their head around the shifts and manages that risk best and starts the best on each race. I think maybe, I think it will be a high scoring regatta, and I think this start line is going to be crucial.
Do you ever stop and think you’re going to a fifth Olympic Games?
I think it’s great. It’s something I’m very proud of. I never thought I was going to go to five Olympic Games, I never planned this. I planned to go to one and then, alright, two, but then that was me over. I wanted to stop after Athens, it was hard work, I’m not made for work like this. Then they changed class, brought in the new RS:X, and I thought, ‘Ooh, yeah okay, I quite like that. I’ll give that a go.’ Then it’s China and then London, you can’t stop when you’ve got your Home Games and then you think, ‘I’ve probably got one more left in me, nothing else to do.’ So then it gets to five and then you’re an old man and you think, ‘My god, I’m an old man.’ I never wanted to be an old man windsurfing, I wanted to be a respectable businessman but here I am.
You ran up the Nothe to your son Thomas after after winning silver at London 2012. What are your memories of that?
It was awesome. It was one of the things I’d always dreamt of and I’d always talked about with Thomas, my oldest son. He loves sport, he loves the medals, he’s ridiculously competitive, he gets very excited when I bring medals back so that was quite a special moment because I’d promised him a medal. It’s good when you can share stuff like that with your family because normally you can’t, you’re the other side of the world and you can’t, so for once I did get to share that with them.
How realistic is gold for you in Rio?
It’s very realistic. Last year I sailed awfully but the past 10 months I’ve started winning again, podiuming. I think the worst position has been fourth, I’m saving my win for the Games. I’m not dominant in the class, nobody’s dominant in the class, it’s wide open, it’s incredibly hard, the hardest it’s ever been. There are probably six sailors going to the Games that can win. I could win, I might finish 6th but I could win, definitely, 100%.
What would it mean to close your windsurfing career on a gold medal?
It’s a lot of work, 20 years of work’s a lot. Normally you’re really pushing for like six months for a big event so 20 years is a long time. It would be amazing to win a gold medal, just get it, put it away, forget about it and move on, that’s what I’d like to do, it would be pretty good. I don’t need it. I want it, but I don’t need it.
Find books for your course at the RYA Shop
Our handy guide shows the books & DVDs that go with your course!