by Lindsey Bell
In his quest for Olympic glory at Rio 2016, Rochdale’s Olympic sailing silver medallist Stuart Bithell has had a change of tack.
Bithell racing with former crew Chris Grube
Bithell, 28, and his 2012 silver medal-winning teammate Luke Patience called time on their 470 partnership at the end of 2012, with their combined body weight in the boat deemed too heavy to be competitive in the light winds expected in Rio.
At the start of 2013, Bithell made the switch to helming in the high performance 49er skiff in a bid to realise his golden ambitions, teaming up with fellow northwest talent Chris ‘Twiggy’ Grube.
But one year on, Bithell has returned to crewing and has teamed up with an experienced 49er talent, Hampshire sailor John Pink, in a bid to upgrade his Olympic silver to gold in two years’ time, with the pair set to make their World Cup debut at this week’s ISAF Sailing World Cup event in Miami (27 January-1 February).
Bithell explained the reasons behind his change of approach.
'I had a bit of an ankle injury last year which set me back three months. Going from crewing a 470 to helming a 49er was always going to be a hard thing to do, but to then miss most of the summer there were a few signs in my mind telling me that actually I was running out of time as a helm. I had to learn so much, so that was it really.
Stuart Bithell (right) with new helm John Pink
'I decided to return to crewing, which was quite a hard decision to be honest – I had a great team with Twiggy – but I made the decision and thus far I’ve not had any regrets.'
Pink is a World Championship silver medallist in the 49er class, and finished 10th at this year’s Worlds in the class with his former crew, but Bithell hopes the combined strengths in their new partnership will make them the stand-out team in the British Sailing Team’s strong 49er squad.
The pair teamed up in November, and last weekend finished second in the 49er North American Championships – the warm up event to this week’s World Cup regatta. But they’re realistic about their prospects for this week’s event at such an early stage of their new partnership.
'We’ve not set any outcomes really internally but we have been racing well already, which is a great sign – similar signs I think to when I teamed up with Luke in the 470 back in 2009,' Bithell explained.
'We’ve got plenty of process goals to work on [this week] with the boat handling and stuff and we’ll just crack down with them and hopefully we’ll be a stronger team moving into the European season.'
Bithell continued: 'John’s got huge experience and is a proven medallist in the 49er class. Hopefully I can bring a bit of my experience in the 470 and a bit of John’s experience in the 49er and we’ll complement each other well and have a good race team.'
'The British Sailing Team has always had a very good squad of 49er teams. Luckily for the Brits we’ve just got one better one!' Bithell joked.
'It’s thinking ahead, but I don’t commit my life and the decisions I make to not thinking I can come away with a medal in Rio, so game on!'
Racing at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami gets underway on Monday 27 January, with medal races for the Olympic classes scheduled for Saturday 1 February.
British Sailing Team