Fascinating Road to Rio for 49er sailor Ben Rhodes

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes, 49er
Richard Langdon/British Sailing Team
During the week, as we near the anniversary of the 2012 Olympic Games on 27 July, we’ll hear from members of the 2012 British Sailing Team who reflect on their own Games experiences, how they themselves were inspired by 2012, and on life and sailing since the London Olympic flame went out and the focus switched to Rio 2016.

Exmouth’s Ben Rhodes overcame numerous injury setbacks to qualify for his second Olympics in the 49er event with Stevie Morrison, where they finished fifth. The pair are back on the campaign trail for Rio 2016:

The Olympics feels a lot longer than a year ago to me.

The London 2012 cycle was massively different to Beijing for no reason more so than for three years of it I had to contend with a toe injury that kept breaking down, requiring surgery and interrupting our training schedule.

When we were training I would be dosed up on painkillers before I went out sailing and then again when I got back in as well as having to ice it for two hours every time. It made sailing not as much fun as it should have been.

I fractured the big toe initially in Palma and a bit of bone got into the joint.

You don’t realise just how much a big toe injury can impede you in sailing, but your body finds ways to avoid putting weight through it and so you twist in funny ways and get body imbalances, which leads to niggling injuries in other parts of your body.

Also on the 49er you are wearing soft shoes and running around the boat so your toe is never going to get complete rest.

Every time there was a gap in the schedule I would have an operation to tidy the toe up but it never solved the problem.

If I had known what I know about how much it would impact on our campaign, I maybe would have opted to have the major surgery needed to correct it straight away. But the prospect of taking six months out during an Olympic campaign, especially when you think you can manage the injury, is not an easy call.

We were selected late which meant we did not have much time to pull our campaign together in the way we would have ideally liked but I thought the time we did have we used really well.

When we reflected on what went wrong at the Beijing Games we had masses of time before the Games but did not use it well yet for London we did not have the time but the time we did have we used really effectively.

I am genuinely proud of that three-month period because we worked really hard and did very long hours but we were motivated to do it because it was the right things to be doing. We enjoyed it.

When it came to the regatta you could see that work had paid off because there were improvements and we got some good results. When we analysed our London 2012 results it was a couple of capsizes that did us, which almost makes it easier to deal with. Without those we would have won a bronze medal, and we were sailing where we probably should have been relative to the rest of the fleet. In Beijing we were just clutching at straws with where to go next when things went wrong but it never felt like that at London. That gave us something positive to take away.

I felt a lot more connected to the London 2012 Games than I did in China.

Being at a venue away from the main Olympic Park we watched the Games on the TV in China but you could not always relate it to being the same event you were competing in. The social media aspect, and the online and the extended media coverage of London made it all feel a lot closer to home.

I have got a lot of interests in a lot of different sports and I really enjoyed watching the kayaking and canoeing especially. I had met Richard Hounslow, who won silver with David Florence in the C2 slalom, before the Games so I had an inside interest in watching that and really enjoyed seeing Team GB win gold and silver in that event.

I got married at the end of September, which gave me something else to focus on straight after the Games. Then I had the major operation to bolt the bone in my big toe and I was not allowed to walk on it from the start of October to December. The bone had to fuse and that takes time.

It was so frustrating because it did not actually hurt but I could not do anything because I risked damaging the toe. It took a bit of time to get used to having a toe that does not bend anymore but I am completely pain-free now, which is all I could ask for. That period was the longest I had been out of a boat since I was about 11!

When it comes to Rio, Stevie and I have been doing this for 12 years and ultimately we have both got a mission to succeed and put in the hours, but we are also much more realistic. We are relatively a pretty old 49er pairing compared to some of the guys in the squad and I genuinely think we can still win World Championships but we will be playing it year by year.

The strength in the British 49er squad now is impressive. We have been lucky enough to be at the top of the pile for a while but last year was a real breakthrough year for Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign and Dave Evans and Ed Powys especially to start realising their potential.

Every team has a clicking point when they realise what they are capable of. Ours came at the 2006 World Championships where we won bronze, our first Worlds medal. It flicks your mind from hoping you can do it to believing you can do it. Some of the boys in the British 49er squad had that moment last year. They have got youth and enthusiasm on their side and we have experience plus the passion we all have.

It all makes for a potentially fascinating Road to Rio for British 49er sailing.

British Sailing Team