Sailing: Shirley sees life beyond the ocean wave

Demands of baby twins keep double gold medallist's feet on the ground as she sets sail for Beijing

It may not have occurred to Sir Clive Woodward, the British Olympic Association's new elite performance director, as a route to gold but the answer, it seems, may lie in bathing babies, watching EastEnders, and engaging some formidable granny power.

There seem to be two of everything in the life of Shirley Robertson at the moment. A brace of Olympic gold medals, two boats for her training camp just outside Palma de Mallorca and a pair of houses, one for her and the family, one for her two crew. Then there is a pair of silver Volvo 4x4s to tow the boats and cart the kit and a bright red double buggy to transport her six-month-old twins, Killian and Annabel.

There is only one husband, Jamie Boag, who joins the group as much as his business will allow to help look after the children while mum is training and even to deal with increasingly infrequent broken nights. If you have to be at the gym in the morning - not far to go, as the upper floor of the house has been converted to that plus an office corner space - and sail up to six hours a day, training with German, Russian and Italian teams, you need your sleep.

Especially as, much as Robertson is the skipper, her middle-of-the-boat crew, Annie Lush, is a bit keen on physical fitness. Both Lush and the 20-year-old Lucy Macgregor, who runs the front of the Yngling, the three-person keelboat Robertson campaigned to victory in Athens and will be racing again in Beijing, can also be dragooned into nappy-changing duties when they turn up for breakfast or an evening meal, and another episode of EastEnders.

There are also two grannies on hand, but it is Boag's mother, the redoubtable Phyl, who has moved from her Northern Ireland home to provide an all-round service which goes far beyond being an unpaid nanny. She is a core member of a team devoted to winning Robertson's third gold medal. Others who are called in to help, like coaches and technical advisers, need to win Phyl's approval.

We are not seeing a new Shirley Robertson at work, but an extended one. Whatever the reason, Shirley the mother is a happier, more relaxed competitor. Experience clearly helps. But not everything has changed. She still gives the impression that she thinks perfectionists lack ambition - "you never feel you have cracked it" - and she crunches every problem to bits, reconstructs it and then crunches it again.

In this she finds Lush a complementary force. A near-workaholic, Lush won, while graduating with a geography degree, a Blue in the Cambridge ladies' rowing eight and brings strength and intelligence to sailing while throwing herself into a forest of computer spreadsheets, checking all the worklists in Robertson's overall gameplan. In contrast Macgregor, 20 last November, is content soaking up knowledge every day.

Mallorca weather means the crew are able to sail nearly every day, catching up for what has been a relatively late start to the campaign. "Utopia will be when decisions evolve, we don't have to make them," says Robertson.

Robertson's new team - and that small-team bond is strong - first have to beat her old Athens crew of Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton who, with Pippa Wilson, are now running their own campaign. The crunch could come quickly after the world championships in Cascais, Portugal, in July and then a pre-Olympic event at Qingdao in August. The UK selectors could make their choice then, not least because early selection means concentrating all the resources on one boat instead of two.

For Robertson, non-selection would mean a change of direction, perhaps into politics. "I would like to be a member of the Scottish parliament," she says, adding that, although her mother once won the title of Miss SNP, she has yet to follow the same party allegiance.

For Macgregor, a career in sport is all she wants, while for Lush the political option has faded. "I went to Cambridge very left of centre, wanted to change the world," she says. "Changing the world is not that easy."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own