by Lindsey Bell
British Olympic sailing duo Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have called it quits on their 12-year 49er partnership and their bid for a third Olympic Games medal attempt together at Rio 2016.
Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes in action at the 2012 Olympic Games
Following recent discussions with the RYA Olympic Manager and the Olympic Steering Group, an 11th place finish at the recent 49er World Championship in Marseille reinforced the duo’s belief that their partnership – which encompassed World and European Championship titles as well as two Olympic Games – had reached its peak, with both sailors now eager to explore new sailing opportunities outside of the Olympic Classes.
'We’ve had a great run over many years but I think the result at the recent Worlds just cemented our thinking that our partnership had probably run its course,' the 32-year-old Rhodes admitted.
'The obvious high point for us was in 2007 – the year as a whole. I think we won pretty much every event we entered including the Worlds so that was a real peak. There’s nothing better than when things are going well and you’re doing that with your best mate. As Bart [Simpson] and Iain [Percy] always used to say, it’s a pretty cool feeling and you think yourself pretty lucky.'
'While we never achieved our ultimate goal of winning an Olympic medal, I think we gave it a pretty good go and I feel pretty proud of what we managed to achieve.'
The 34-year-old Morrison added: 'Ben and I have sailed together for so long and have been successful almost across generations of 49er sailors managing to stay on top of our game, so we’ve shown pretty good adaptability and good teamship skills.
'After the Worlds this year we had to look each other in the eye and look at ourselves in the mirror and say for whatever reason we’ve plateaued. As hard as that is to say, equally you’ve got to look back and say that we were the best in the world for a while, and not many people get to say that.
'We’ve had a really good career as a team but it’s time to move on and try exploring different avenues.'
The Exmouth-based sailors are both keen to explore sailing campaigns outside of the Olympic Classes, and have been excited by the move in professional sailing towards high performance boats.
'I’d love to keep sailing as much as possible and with the experience of high-level campaigning that I have, I feel I’ve a lot to offer a high-performance sailing team, whether that be in Extreme 40s or Melges boats or whatever it is. I’d be pretty keen to give everything a go!' Rhodes explained.
Morrison added: 'There are other guys from our team like Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy, Chris Draper who’ve gone on to the America’s Cup. It’s an exciting time for the sport of sailing with high performance boats becoming much more the benchmark of sailing, and that exactly suits our background and where we have come from in our sailing.'
While the soon-to-be first-time father Rhodes is hanging up his 49er trapeze harness for good and viewing professional life entirely outside of Olympic campaigning, Morrison admits that he would consider a return to the 49er and a further shot at Olympic gold in Rio, if the circumstances were right and the right crew were to come along.
In the meantime, Morrison has expressed the pair’s gratitude for the support they received during their campaign years.
'We’re really grateful to the RYA and Sparky who was the team manager when I first started out and has been very encouraging over the years. We also couldn’t have achieved what we did without the help of UK Sport and the National Lottery, as we couldn’t have operated at such a high level without them.
'On a personal level our friends and family have also been a massive support, as well as our personal sponsors G4S. For six years they were a huge support to us – they had a tough time after the last Olympics but the people we know have always been a huge help and have always been there for us when we needed them.'
RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park paid tribute to their years of application and sacrifice chasing their Olympic dream, saying: 'Stevie and Ben have been fantastic competitors at the front of the world 49er fleet for some years now. They have delivered great performances for Great Britain over the years, but ultimately didn’t manage to deliver their best performances at the Olympic Games.
'I am sure they will go on to deliver many more top performances in other forms of the sport, and wish them well for the future.'
British Sailing Team