An email conversation with sailor Stevie Morrison

'You have to make sure the rig is tuned up to its best - similar to F1'
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The Independent Online

You and your sailing partner Ben Rhodes are taking part in the Kiel Regatta starting on Wednesday before leaving to prepare for the Olympic 49ers event, where you are strong medal contenders. How are you feeling about it? Being selected for a first Olympics is a huge dream for us. I guess our obvious rivals must be the Aussie pair of Nathan Outterridge and Ben Austin, who won this year's World Championships, and we'll need to look out for the Spaniards and the Ukrainians too. But we've got things together well in recent months.

You have described the 49ers class as being very much about "crash and bang" sailing. How do you mean? The 49ers are spectacular boats, and they go pretty quick, but they have a tendency to fall over easily if you don't get things right. You have to make adjustments to the boat all the time because the fleets are never spread out very much. It's closer to windsurfing in some ways. In our event it is very easy to win one race and then come 15th in the next. Things happen very quickly.

What's all this about you not liking water? Bit rum for a sailor? Up to the age of 10 I was scared witless of water. I think I've conquered that now. But I still wear a wetsuit – I don't overly like getting wet. You do get very close to it – if it's flat water and steady going you are skimming just above it.

So what got you started in the sport? I was brought up in Exmouth, where my parents ran a boat-building business. I used to take a little boat out onto a creek at the back of the yards. My dad, Phil, is a yacht designer and has won world titles in a variety of dinghy classes, including the Fireball, which I won in 2001, 20 years after he did. It was the first time a father and son had won the same title.

This year's European Championship went badly for you, but then you won the Holland Regatta at the end of May. Do you feel you are back to your best? We had some bad luck at the Europeans and we had to retire in some very heavy conditions. We learned a lot from the competition, and it was a good kick up the backside for us. But at the Holland Regatta Ben and I finally managed to keep it all together.

How much of a boost was it for you to have won the Beijing Olympic test event last year? Beijing – it's so different to Exmouth! Living there takes you out of your comfort zone, and the sailing conditions there are very out of the norm. You get weeks and weeks of very light winds. But the currents are lively and choppy. But winning there means we know we can do it again. It's important to have that feeling, because sometimes you can get a bit of a gremlin about a place. If we had not won a medal there it would have been a bit different. But we didn't feel we actually performed very well in winning – we only sailed well on two of the five days

Have you had to lose much weight to prepare for the conditions in Beijing? Because of the light winds, Ben and I will need to be lighter in bodyweight than normal. But our natural size is a small size for the boat. At the moment we've lost about three kilos each – but that's not as much as some of our heavier opponents are having to lose. Some of them are beginning to look a bit grouchy about it. We don't mind about that.

You've said your greatest strength is "simplifying it" and your weakness is "oversimplifying it". How do you mean? Ben and I have done a lot of work with our sports psychologist, Dr Ben Chell, and we are focusing on doing the simple things right because there is an awful lot to think about during the races. First of all you have to make sure the rig is tuned up to its best – you go into detail, similar to Formula One cars. You have to be aware of what your opponents are doing at all times. And you have to take into account the wind changes and the state of the water. There is so much to think about that there is a danger you can get lost in it. Having said that, at times I have raced with a list of five basic things to concentrate on, and Ben will remind me that sometimes other things need to take priority.

You got into hot water with the authorities for naming your boat after a Kooks song about a girl called Jackie. Remind us of the title – and what happened? We've called it Jackie Big Tits. That was the boat we won the World Championships in last year. We like to give our boats names after good songs. When my partner Sarah and I are in the car with the two kids – Daisie is seven, and Jo is 10 – we play the song. But when the chorus comes on, we sing "Chockie Biscuits". We're not going to change it. Once you name a boat, that's it. Otherwise it's bad luck.

Mike Rowbottom

Attachment

*Background: Stevie Morrison is a leading British yachtsman who has enjoyed success in all classes from the International Cadet to the 49er. He is the son of Phil Morrison, the British yacht designer. Together with team- mate Ben Rhodes, Morrison became the 2007 World Champion in the 49er class. In 2008 they won the silver medal in the same event, behind the Australians Nathan Outteridge and Ben Austin, while in 2006 they took bronze. That same year Morrison won the European 49er title.

*Class 49er.

*Position on Boat Helm.

*Born 25 November 1978, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

*Lives Exmouth, Devon.

Started sailing for fun at age 11 in a Cadet with friends.

*Name of sailing partner Ben Rhodes.

*Biggest goal Olympic gold medal in Beijing and London, and to be happy.

*Career 2007 Sail for Gold – second. Nominated to the British Olympic Committee to compete in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Pre-Olympic regatta (Xingdao) – first. World Championships – first. Breitling Regatta – third.

2006 Miami OCR – fifth. World Championships – fifth. European Championships – seventh. Princess Sofia – fourth.

2005 Hyeres – 11th. Holland Regatta – Gold. Kiel Week – fifth.

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