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The team behind the team

Written by 1st July 2021 Featured-post, Tokyo 2020

The 15 sailors representing Team GB at Tokyo 2020 are the stars of the show, but behind the scenes there’s a small army working to guarantee success in Japan. Around 28 coaches and support staff will travel to Tokyo, though many more have given their time and expertise over the five-year build-up.

Among them, chef Henrietta Dutton-Williams is charged with feeding the delegation nutritious and delicious meals, while technical gurus Adam May and Simon Hiscocks will ensure each boat is as fast as it can be. Kate Eddy, Head of Performance Support, will lead a team of sports scientists and medics who’ll keep the athletes in top physical and mental form, and communications manager Will Carson will ensure the sailors’ stories are heard, both at home and internationally. 

Mark Robinson, RYA Olympic Performance Manager 

Mark says the adversity caused by Covid-19 hasn’t been all bad for the team. ‘I think people have learned a lot more about themselves as well as about what’s important in their campaigns,’ he says. ‘The new challenges of the pandemic force you to assess the risk versus reward of everything you do, and it sharpens the mind. The mental-health impact of adapting our lives so dramatically has been enormous on everyone, along with all the uncertainty around whether the Games would go ahead. Fortunately, sailors are by nature very resilient and have coped really well in trying times.’  

Ian Walker, RYA Director of Racing 

With two Olympic medals, Ian knows more than most about the highs and lows of competing in the rarefied atmosphere of the Games. He is going to Tokyo as a ‘minister without portfolio’. ‘I’m going to the Games to act as a safety net,’ he says. ‘There’s nearly always a drama. I’ll just be a person that people can talk to if they choose to or make myself useful however I’m needed.’ In addition to this pastoral role, Ian, along with Mark Robinson, will be focused on Team GB bringing home as many medals as possible. ‘The target we’ve agreed with UK Sport is between four and seven medals of any colour,’ he says. It would also be great to become top sailing nation, which is measured by number of golds first and foremost, meaning that if a nation wins two gold medals that would trump two or more medals of varying colours. Right now, though, Ian is like everyone else on the team: just happy that the Games are going ahead at all.  

Alex Wardall, Olympic Operations Officer 

Having run logistics for complex events, Alex’s first Olympic Games should have been fairly straightforward. However, the build-up to Tokyo has been anything but predictable. ‘It’s very much a moving landscape at the moment,’ she says. ‘I think it’s a challenging role at the best of times, but over the past year we’ve had to let go of things we’d take for granted, such as very detailed pre-planning. We have to work a lot more reactively now in ever-changing circumstances. ‘Fortunately, we’ve been able to keep our private accommodation in Hayama – being self-contained will be vital under Covid restrictions. But we’ve had to give up our local workforce. Over the past few years we’ve built strong ties with the Hayama community who act as our drivers, kitchen support staff and translators. That level of mixing won’t be possible this year.’  

Simon Rowell, meteorologist 

According to Simon, sailors will have to be ready for anything on the water. Enoshima is an all-rounders’ venue that could throw up a variety of wind and wave states. ‘We have two particular local hazards,’ says Simon. ‘There’s always the danger of a tsunami, and the Games are in the middle of typhoon season. Even a typhoon at the other end of Japan could push a two-to-four metre swell through Enoshima. ‘The Kuroshio is a warm, north easterly ocean current that runs off the coast of Japan that can drive the water temperature up to 26 or 27 degrees. During the Games we could be getting air temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s along with very high humidity, which makes it a very challenging place to do hardcore exercise.’