The Olympics Issue:

How We Met: Iain Percy & Bryony Shaw

'She made me do all these exercises, putting me in immense pain; you could call it tough love'

Iain Percy MBE 36

Percy started sailing with his family aged four, and is one of only three British men to have won Olympic sailing golds at two different Games. He won his first title in the Finn heavyweight dinghy class at Sydney 2000 before taking gold in the Star class with Andrew Simpson at Beijing 2008 – a title they will defend at London 2012. He lives in Valencia, Spain

I remember when Bryony first came on the Olympic [performance sailing] team several years ago. All the rest of the team were queuing up to ask her out – though not me, I hasten to add.

Given I was in the biggest of the boats, the Star class, and she was a windsurfer, it was amazing that we crossed notes, but we've learnt a lot from one another. Other windsurfers don't get as involved in discussing things like tides, but she's keen to understand all aspects of racing.

It's important in any team to understand that you can't always have success. And in a sport such as sailing there's a lot of luck involved, such as the wind, so you have to remember the happy times. My best memory of Beijing was when Andrew [Simpson] and I won our medal. We'd just completed our final race and Bryony came out in a boat with [the three-time gold medallist] Ben Ainslie to meet us, and jumped on board. We'd had a real battle, and she knew it, so having her there was an even bigger buzz.

She's been a big support when I've been down, too. When I hurt my back at the start of the World Championships in Sydney recently, it was Bryony who came over to the house to see how I was. I was lying face-down on the sofa and she made me do all these exercises, putting me in immense pain; you could call it tough love. She was in the middle of her championships, renting a different house, but she still came over.

Windsurfing and sailing share tactical elements, but require a very different physical skillset. I borrowed Bryony's board once for a go, but I was a lost cause. To look at her, you wouldn't think she had all that strength and power, but when you see her in the gym in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, you see she's a pocket rocket and an incredible athlete. Will she win a medal at these Games? She's definitely up there, but when you're dealing with the wind, there are no guarantees.

Bryony Shaw 29

Shaw first learnt to windsurf on holiday, aged nine, in the South of France. She has since become Britain's most successful windsurfer, and the only British woman to have won an Olympic medal, with bronze in Beijing. She won bronze in the 2012 test event last year, and will compete in the RS:X class at the Games. She lives in Dorset

I joined the performance sailing team when I was 19, but I missed out on Athens [in 2004], so it wasn't until the training cycle in the run-up to Beijing 2008 that we became friends. When the team comes together, and gets smaller [after selection], there's a lot more interaction between the classes [of event] and for the 2007 pre-Olympics test event year, we both went out to China.

I was in awe of him initially; he'd won a gold medal at Sydney and had this wealth of Olympic experience, while I was just a young, up-and-coming athlete, but he gave me a lot of advice. When the medals started coming [for the GB team] in Beijing, I felt like I was riding on the coat-tails of Iain and Bart [Percy's team-mate, Andrew Simpson], but I wanted to be part of the success, and I raised my own game.

A key moment in our friendship came when I was disqualified from a race after a false start, dropping me back to sixth overall. I came back to the hotel in floods of tears, feeling super-down, but Iain helped me regroup mentally. He said, "You're a fighter, you're a machine, you can do it." Even though he was in the middle of his event he constantly reassured me over the coming days, sitting me down and reminding me, "You can come back from here." He really gave me a boost and by the final race I even had a shot at the gold.

Part of Iain and Bart's preparation is carb-loading and being big and strong, as that helps make their boat go quicker, but I try to be as light and lean as I can for races. I remember one night when Iain and Bart invited me to go out for dinner to an all-you-can-eat buffet. They ploughed through four and five courses, plates piled high, while I just went up to the buffet once to lay a few bits of sushi on this tiny plate, which they found hilarious.

Sailing is not as well-known as other Olympic disciplines, but I really feel that this year, with the British sailors being so strong, people are more aware of our medal potential, and there's a big media buzz around sailors such as Iain.

There's more of a mutual respect between us now, too, as he's been impressed by my achievements, and it's less about him giving me advice and more about sharing ideas – and keeping one another's confidence high.

Bryony Shaw is sponsored by lifestyle clothing brand Fat Face (fatface.com)

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