Meet the team: James Peters
From junior champion to Team GB
James Peters looked destined to join Phil Foden, Tom Daley and Ellie Simmonds in the pantheon of great British sporting early bloomers.
Aged 16, he was nominated for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year having won world, European and national youth titles in the space of a month in 2008.
Stardom beckoned for a virtuoso sailor who breezed through his piano exams at school and was a confident public speaker.
But his destiny of reaching the Olympic Games would remain out of reach for 15 years and it would take a career change, retirements and a whole lot of heartache to earn his place on Team GB.
“Early on, I definitely believed I’d get to the Olympics,” said Peters. “I had that ignorant confidence of youth. Then, when you work through it, I realised it was going to be pretty tough.”
When Peters joined the national squad in 2012, five of the top ten 49er boats in the world were British.
He found that those junior accolades meant little and he’d joined the longest queue in the sport to earn endorsement for international events, culminating in the Olympics.
“It took us four or five years to get to the top of the world, which is about right,” said Peters. “But it took us more than ten years to get to the top in Britain.”
Spotting an opportunity
Having been a training partner at Rio 2016, Peters thought he’d cracked the code in partnership with Fynn Sterritt in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020.
They struck World Cup gold in 2018 and 2019 on Olympic waters and reached No.1 in the world just months before the original dates for the Games.
But Peters and Sterritt were ‘beaten fair and square’ in domestic selection races by Stu Bithell and Dylan Fletcher, who went on to win Olympic gold in dramatic fashion.
It was a grievous blow that nearly ended Peters’ career, provoking him to pursue a different path and take a job as a consultant at Deloitte.
“We’d been full-time for six years and I felt like I needed a different environment for a while, to clear my head,” said Peters. “I didn’t want to just roll on to another cycle.
“I had a really good opportunity there to work with some good people and there was this feeling of, just, ‘maybe I should get on with life.’
“Working with Deloitte did make me realise that we were in a unique situation. Not many people can say they can make the Olympics and have a realistic chance of winning a medal.
“I came back because I realised the opportunity we had.”
Now the undisputed number ones in the 49er, Peters and Sterritt won European bronze in 2022 and finished sixth at August’s World Championships to qualify Team GB for the Games.
He is now among an initial group of ten sailors who are the first athletes to be named on the British Olympic Team for Paris 2024.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since the age of 15,” said Peters. “It’s taken a long time, but that’s why it’s such a big deal.
“We were there, we were good enough to be there and competing for a medal, we just didn’t get the opportunity. Now we’ve got it, and it’s pretty exciting.”