by Matt Carter
As two 18-year-old comrades, who were not even sailing together, Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell bounced around the kitchen at Luke’s family home in Scotland as it was announced that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics.
Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, (GBR)
Seven years later, and only three years after pairing up together, Helensburgh-raised Patience and Bithell, from Rochdale, start their Olympic careers competing in the 470 two-person dinghy class on Thursday (2 August) at Weymouth and Portland.
The duo grew up as fierce rivals but good friends racing against one another in 420s on the national and international circuit. But fate bought them together on Wednesday 6 July 2005 when the London announcement came.
Stuart explains: 'We were going to a Junior World Championships in Estonia, in separate teams, and I was driving the van out, which was Luke’s van. Eight miles from the ferry port I crashed in to the back of another van. I was like ‘Luke, I’m sorry mate, I’ve crashed your van,’ and he was like don’t worry about it, just bring it home and we will sort it out. I ended up spending six days in Scotland at Luke’s house.
'We weren’t sailing together then, we were just mates, and we were in Luke’s kitchen having lunch. When the announcement was on the news we were so excited, jumping around the room, going mental. We knew London would be our time, it would be our first chance, just because of the age we were. It was funny how we were together when it announced and look at us now, we’re on the team, together.'
The pair shot to prominence in 2009 when they won an unexpected silver medal at the 470 Worlds just a few weeks after starting to train together. However that medal proved not to be beginner’s luck with Patience and Bithell finding themselves consistently on the podium including another Worlds silver in Perth in 2011.
Now they are looking to defy the old adage that Olympic first timers don’t win medals.
Patience said: 'We’re going to go to the Olympics to win gold. If I thought we were going there to win silver then see you later. It’s not why I do it. I genuinely, honestly believe me and Stu are good enough to go and replicate our best performance at the Games that best performance being one that is world class.
'We fully intend to break the statistics that first time Olympians don’t win medals. That is what our lives have been about for as long as we can remember and we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure that happens.'
Bithell added: 'To walk away from Weymouth to be very satisfied it would be a gold medal, to be satisfied it would be a medal. To be honest with our previous results, fourth and we would be fairly unsatisfied, certainly with the expectations of the sailing team and the success of British sailing as a sport.'
The Olympic Sailing Regatta runs from Sunday 29 July – Saturday 11 August. The Men’s 470 medal race is scheduled for Thursday 9 August (1pm).
British Sailing Team website