Two of the rising young stars in British sailing are the newest members of Team GB for the London 2012 Olympic Games, it was announced today by the British Olympic Association (BOA).
Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, who compete in the Men’s 470 Class, have been nominated to Team GB by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), the National Governing Body for the sport of sailing.
The addition of Patience and Bithell brings to 21 the number of athletes who have officially been selected for Team GB. The announcement was made on the 200-day countdown to the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Both aged 25, the duo have been competing together since 2009 and, in their relatively brief time together, have enjoyed a steady rise in the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) world rankings. They finished the 2010 season ranked fourth in the world and clinched their place on Team GB by winning the silver medal at the 2011 ISAF World Championships last month in Perth, Australia.
They made their debut in the 470 World Championships in 2009 after having competed together for just two weeks, and brought home a silver medal.
Patience was born in Helensburgh, Scotland and now lives in Portland. He began sailing in an Optimist at the age of seven and started racing two years later at his local sailing club, Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club.
Bithell was born in Rochdale, England and now lives in Portland. He was introduced to sailing as a seven year old at Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club in Rochdale in a Firefly. Bithell began racing competitively at the age of 12 and became a member of the Skandia Team GBR Development Squad at the age of 18.
Team GB Chef de Mission Andy Hunt said: "Luke and Stuart have quickly risen to the top of their sport. They have done so by blending their remarkable talent with an unwavering work ethic and a commitment to excellence that is the hallmark of British sailing, and we are proud to welcome them to Team GB."
RYA Olympic Manager Stephen 'Sparky' Park added: "Luke and Stuart have come a long way since they started sailing together back in 2009, and are a classic example of how getting the right complement of skillsets for helm and crew in the boat can really launch sailors’ careers."
A tough selection process
"Campaigning to represent Team GB at the Games in this class is probably the hardest challenge," Sparky explains. "With double Olympic silver medallist Nick Rogers, sailing with Chris Grube, and double World Champions Nic Asher and Elliot Willis to contend with it’s been a tough battle to gain the British selection spot.
"A number of podium positions throughout 2011, including silver at both the European and World Championships, show that Luke and Stuart are on track for the podium in 2012 and I’m confident they’ll be promising sailors in the programme for years to come."
Luke Patience said: "Even though we weren’t sailing together at the time, Stuart and I by complete coincidence were in the same room when London was announced as the hosts of the 2012 Olympic Games. I feel so privileged and am so excited to have been selected. I can’t wait to be a part of a home Games in one of the greatest cities on earth.
"We’re not just going for the t-shirt though. It’s been hard work getting to this point but we’re by no means letting our hair down now. In our campaign we are conscious to celebrate all the small successes along the way, so we’re definitely enjoying this moment, but we have just one goal and that’s to win a gold medal this summer in London so selection is by no means the end of the job."
Stuart Bithell added: "Although we never doubted ourselves, it’s still a big relief to have been selected and to know that we’ll be there on the startline at our first Olympic Games and doing our best to bring home gold. As our coach put it when we learned of our selection ‘we’ve climbed one peak, now we need to climb another, and the sunset’s a whole lot nicer from the next one.' It’s a weight off our shoulders, but there’s a lot of hard work still ahead of us.
"We’re representing Queen and country, so we will be putting our programme in place to give us the best chance of becoming gold medallists in August. We’re part of the most successful sailing team in the world, and at our first Games, to have the support of world’s best sailors and staff guiding us through can only be a good thing."
The team so far
The 13 sailors who have been selected to Team GB for London 2012 thus far are:
Ben Ainslie – Finn
Paul Goodison – Laser
Bryony Shaw - RSX Women
Nick Dempsey – RSX Men
Lucy Macgregor, Kate Macgregor, Annie Lush – Elliott 6m, Women’s Match Racing
Iain Percy, Andrew Simpson – Star
Hannah Mills, Saskia Clark – 470 Women
Luke Patience, Stuart Bithell – 470 Men
Selection trials in the 49er and Laser Radial classes are ongoing.
Click here for further information on the selected sailors.