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GP14 sailor inspired by the Olympics

by Gary Deighan 8 Aug 2012 21:02 BST 8 August 2012
Stuart Bithell and Christian Birrell on day 1 of the 2011 GP14 nationals at Abersoch © Andy Bury

Anyone who participates at any level in a sport which features as an Olympic discipline feels an additional draw to follow their particular sport during these games. Sailors of all kind are no different, however for the GP14 sailors there is that extra excitement and allegiance as a competitor we consider as one of our own battles it out in the 470 class.

With such excellent coverage of the sailing which is so widely available, it is possible to follow every move Luke and Stuart make in their pursuit of Olympic glory and how incredibly compelling it is too. Let's not forget that although they are such close friends, they have only really campaigned the 470 for a very short time and more significantly, this is their first Olympics. Perhaps all of that is why I, and I suspect the entire GP fleet, felt such nerves and excitement as the pair lined up for their first start. We were all hoping they would get off to a good start on our home waters. What a great start they did get too as they posted an incredible 2nd and then a bullet on the first day, surely as good a start to the regatta as the boys could have hoped.

The opportunity to sit in my lounge and watch dingy racing at such close quarters is not something I had experienced much before and I found myself avidly watching how Luke and Stu worked their boat in the hope of spotting that little something that might help when I get out on the sea at Looe. Sailing is not something I consider a spectator sport but hats off to this coverage as I am sure with the computer graphics, mark round action and layman speak commentary many others outside of the sport gained enjoyment from the races.

It did make me smile as I watched Luke and Stu cross millimetres behind the French only for the graphics to show they were several places behind based on the way they calculated the positions.

Perhaps it's the relaxation of the illegal propulsion rule in certain wind strengths that enhances the excitement especially for someone new to the sport? The tireless efforts of Stu working the kite and pumping the boats down each wave managed to both appeal to me on one hand but also question if it would be enhancement to GP14 regattas or not. Perhaps something we can all debate at length?

Anyway, despite the dominance of the Australian pair prior to the event it didn't seem to deter our lads as they kept up the pressure throughout the races posting consistent top 5 results and securing themselves a remarkable guaranteed silver with both a series and medal race to go. With that final race about to start the social media and my own txt messages worked overtime debating if, and how, Luke and Stu could sail the Australians down the fleet to give themselves the best shot at the gold once again demonstrating how much a part of the whole event we all feel.

In case I wasn't impressed enough with how they were acquitting themselves throughout the regatta, many interviews with both knowledgeable pundits and fellow team mates painted a picture of two lads completely enjoying and appreciating their time there. So many referred to them as fun to be around, positive, focused, professional and yet always with a smile on their faces, which is how I particularly remember Stu on beach of Abersoch as he became our National Champion last year.

With just the medal race to go and a chance of a Gold, I cannot be more excited for Luke and Stu and wish them every bit of luck, something it seems you may well need given the concept of the medal race and more importantly the questionable decision to run them on short, virtually inland courses. I for one can't help feeling that this is not the ideal way to decide the best sailors but certainly provides a spectacle for the fantastic support we are seeing lining the shores of Weymouth.

Finally for me the presence of Stu at these Olympics, the impeccable way he has presented himself and the fantastic coverage provided by various media has all combined to do wonders for the sport of sailing. It has also shown that the level of GP14 competition and the quality and success of our events can all help to breed an Olympic silver medallist if not better. It has certainly enhanced my enthusiasm for sailing and I can't wait for the GP14 Worlds to get started in Looe in only a few days time.

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