Paul Goodison: Spark to light up the waves

Fourth in Athens, first in Beijing, Sheffield's man of steel knows practice makes perfect as he aims for glory again on home waters. He talks to Robin Scott-Elliot

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The Independent Online

The whistle blows and the boat, a laser, its taut white sail marked with the letters GBR, darts forward. Paul Goodison leans back, the upper half of his body out of the boat at right angles to the water, the occasional wave brushes his back. Above him a search-and-rescue helicopter chunters across Portland Harbour unnoticed; Goodison only has eyes for his task. Practice, practice, practice. D-day is approaching.

Goodison is working on his starts. He ducks effortlessly beneath the boom, swings the sail round and eases the laser alongside the boat in which one of his coaches, the man with the whistle, sits. The start is crucial in sailing, getting the best position and crossing the start line at precisely the right moment could make all the difference to whether Goodison becomes a double Olympic gold medallist. The two chat briefly, agree the next challenge and Goodison pushes off again. Practice, practice, practice.

"Every day is different," says Goodison later, picking over a plate of sandwiches. We are sitting in an upstairs room in the National Sailing Academy with a view over the harbour and Weymouth Bay, the venue for the Olympic competition. "Look out of the window now… and it's completely different by the time you get down to the start."

That is why every hour spent out on the harbour is crucial. It is home waters – Goodison lives in Weymouth, with his partner, Saskia Clark, one half of the 470 crew, who have golden ambitions of their own – but conditions vary hugely every day. Added to that is the venue being open to anyone, an issue that has vexed Richard Parks, the man in charge of Britain's sailors.

"There's a Spanish guy, a Guatemalan guy down there now," says Goodison. "By the time it comes to the Games everyone will have been here for the last two years training hard. It is the guys who are best in all conditions who generally win. It's easy to be in the zone for a day but to try and keep that for longer periods is difficult because there is going to be a lot more variety in conditions, variety of challenges, and there's only a few people who have got the mindset and the right attributes to deal with it all."

That Goodison, who resembles a younger David Moyes and has something of the Scot's steely nature too, has the right attributes and mindset is not in question. To an extent this is a man who, for all his successes, is stirred by fear of failure.

Eight years ago he was expected to win a medal in Athens. He came fourth. "The pain and heartache of Athens was a massive thing to push you through those hard times because you never want to feel like that again," says Goodison. "Running into this Games when things are hard and you feel you don't like doing it, you look at the pain and agony of Athens and, although you might feel crap, you just get on with it. It will feel a lot worse if you don't do it, but you also look at the winning. You want that again.

"I came back from Athens and was close to walking away from sailing because I never wanted to feel like that again. I really did think I was going to win a medal in Athens and to miss out was devastating. I never wanted to put myself in that position again so the easy thing was to walk away. But then I didn't want to be an 'if only' man. I wanted to put it right. So in China I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself and did everything I could to win. I'm just as motivated – if not more so – to do it again."

Goodison comes from Sheffield, the son of a mechanic, "a working-class guy who loves sport". His father, who had taken up sailing in an attempt to impress his fiancée, first took Goodison out on a lake near Rotherham, but his son preferred football. A knee injury returned him to the water once and for all, although football remains a passion inherited from his father, albeit a different coloured one.

"He is Sheffield Wednesday. The first game he took me to was against Everton and they lost 5-0. My cousins were all red, Sheffield United. They used to take me on Saturdays. We would sit at the back of the Kop – that's why I ended up red not blue."

His partner, Saskia, is a Norwich fan. He happily describes her "sitting on her hands" during one visit to Bramall Lane to watch the two teams play.There is an interesting dynamic in a relationship between two elite sportspeople. Goodison and Clark, together for nine years, are by no means a unique pairing. There are several couples across Team GB.

"You have to be selfish, so it is difficult," says Goodison. "I sail as an individual, I'm pretty ruthless and very selfish in doing what I want, whereas she's ruthless but works in a team. It is tough but the fact that we both know what we're trying to achieve and the fact we both know what it takes to achieve that, you can help each other and give advice. If I was in a relationship with somebody who was not involved it would be very difficult for them to understand it and put up with me. If they don't understand what you're going through then there is no way they can cope with it, coming back either over the moon or p****d off."

It was Goodison who was over the moon in Beijing. Clark came sixth. "They are right there," he says of Clark and Hannah Mills' chances this time. And his? "The Australian [Tom Slingsby] is the man to beat, but his track record at the last Games wasn't great."

Goodison pauses and looks out the window, toward where he will race. "There is something special about the Olympics. You've got to get it right. Nobody cares who wins the World Championships, but people remember who won the Olympics."

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Weir heads gb Paralympics side

Paralympics GB completed their London 2012 line-up yesterday with the announcement of their 49-strong athletics squad.

With 49 days to go until the Paralympics opening ceremony, the British Paralympic Association have named a blend of youth and experience.

A total of 28 athletes will make their Paralympic debut in London, while there are eight medallists from Beijing four years ago, including double gold winner David Weir.

"We've made a lot of changes since Beijing, where our medal haul was 18th best, and that has been our benchmark ever since," UK Athletics head coach Peter Eriksson said. "We had a hugely successful World Championships in January 2011, when we won 38 medals and finished third in the table. Now, in my third full year at UKA, the strength and depth of the squad has improved.

"Many of these have been fast-tracked from development through to international representation at both junior and senior level and that means we've had to make some tough decisions."

Going up

Adam Gemili The British sprinter clocked 10.37sec in the 100m heats at the World Junior Championships in Spain, winning his heat in the joint-fastest time. He goes in the semi-finals today as he continues his London preparations.

Going down

Hope Solo The US women's football goalkeeper has received a public warning from the US Anti-Doping Agency after testing positive for the banned substance Canrenone. The 30-year-old has accepted the warning and will still play at the Games.