Stuart Bithell on retiring from Olympic sailing
Date published: 28 July 2022
Photo: Sam McGovern
Olympic gold medallist Stuart Bithell
Stuart Bithell has wrestled one major gong off New Zealand and now he is hoping to do it again.
The Rochdale sailor, 35, beat out defending champions the Kiwis to win men’s 49er gold alongside Dylan Fletcher at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
Bithell retired from Olympic sailing late last year and is now channelling his energy into bringing the America’s Cup back to Britain when New Zealand look to defend sport’s oldest international trophy in 2024.
“The old phrase keeps coming out that I have retired which is a weird word to say because it didn’t feel like I had a job,” he said.
“I have moved on from Olympic sailing but I’m still absolutely a professional sailor, I’ve moved onto some slightly different areas of the sport, slightly bigger teams and the professional circuit.
“I am really enjoying that and trying to develop as a sailor now, doing some cool things and hopefully fingers crossed help Ben Ainslie bring the Cup back.
“I’m a long way off even competing in the America’s Cup, but I’m just developing myself as a sailor for those kinds of boats. It’s going to be a tricky old road to take it off New Zealand at the moment.
“I think it would be brilliant, it would bring the Cup back to the UK, probably Cowes, because that is where it started, and it would be a good story.
“But it would bring so many jobs, opportunities. It would definitely be inspiring because they are the coolest boats in the world, there’d be lots of media, lots of budget around.
“It would just be really good for the country and sailing and again all of that hopefully comes back round to inspiring people.”
Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, is the skipper and CEO of INEOS Britannia, who were last year confirmed as the Challenger of Record, which gives them the ability to shape the rules and regulations of the America’s Cup regatta.
INEOS Britannia will be one of the teams looking to be the sole challengers to New Zealand in the 37th America’s Cup, which will be decided by its own regatta earlier in 2024.
Bithell, who is currently part of Switzerland’s SailGP team, was speaking ahead of the release of ‘Chasing Tokyo’, an Olympic Channel in-depth documentary following the British Sailing Team for 18 months before Tokyo 2020 – released on 28 July.
Team GB is the most successful sailing nation at the Olympics and topped the medal table in Tokyo for the fifth time in six games, but have often failed to gain the nation’s attention.
That is something the film hopes to change, with Bithell citing Ben Ainslie’s departure from the Olympic programme in 2012 as a big loss for the stature of sailing in Britain.
He added: “We lost a couple of big names. When Ben Ainslie left the programme, he brought a lot of success to our sport in the country and was probably one of the most famous sailors in the world.
“The British Sailing Team lost him and he moved on to other projects and there wasn’t that superstar coming back but now we do have those superstars.
“Hannah Mills, the most successful female Olympic sailor ever, she is incredible.
"We can’t control that, we can control delivering our best at an Olympic Games and hopefully capture the imagination of young people to get into the sport, even adults to get into the sport, it is a cool thing to be part of out on the water.”
Watch Chasing Tokyo at Olympics.com
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