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By Milly McEvoy
With the release of a feature-length documentary on the British Sailing Team on the horizon, Olympic champion sailor Stuart Bithell admits he was reluctant to let the cameras in at first.
‘Chasing Tokyo’ is an Olympic Channel film that follows the British Sailing Team as they built up to Tokyo 2020, the most uncertain Olympic Games in modern memory.
The Covid pandemic threw up new challenges for the team, but with the benefit of hindsight – and a shiny gold medal – the Rochdale native’s reflection on that time is all positive.
“I’m not always a big fan of the cameras but for some reason, it felt fine,” the 35-year-old said. “They were really good at working around us.
“I guess it is kind of the point to film what people don’t see normally so there is an element of we have got to let them in a little bit.
“They came to the house to do an interview at home and I was telling my girlfriend, there is someone coming round to do a bit of filming and as it turned out there was about five of them that came around with all the camera gear.
“They were all in the living room and my girlfriend came down from her office and said what the hell is going on here, she wasn’t expecting a full, professional camera crew.
“I’ve seen the trailer, it didn’t really bring up too much negative emotion with Covid, it was more excitement and ‘oh, this is going to be really cool to see how it has been put together.’
“It was interesting, a couple of the scenes, it was a reminder that we did it in Covid. It feels like we have forgotten about that now, but it definitely happened, it wasn’t a dream.”
The film – released on July 28 – hopes to inspire the country to get into sailing and celebrates the most successful Olympic sailing team of all time, with Bithell’s gold in the 49er class last year one of 31 Great Britain have won.
The Dorset-based athlete claimed gold alongside Dylan Fletcher in one of the most dramatic races the Olympics has ever seen, beating Germany by mere metres in the final medal race.
That ensured the pair finished two places ahead of defending champions New Zealand, who had to settle for silver.
It is fair to say inspiring others was at the back of Bithell and Fletcher’s minds as they raced for gold, but their nail-biting victory will contribute to the drama that could pull people into the sport as they watch Chasing Tokyo.
He added: “It doesn’t really affect our mind – we just go out and do our thing and we do it in the right manner and do it the right way.
“Things like this documentary are perfect because you see who we are as people and certainly last year we had some really interesting characters.
“I think if we do what we do that in itself will be inspiring to other people. The younger generation, if they watch it, I am sure they will be inspired, especially when they see the newer sailing classes that are in the Olympics.
“They are getting cooler, faster, windsurfing, kitesurfing, up on hydrofoils, it is all developing, hopefully, all that is enough to inspire someone who wants to have a go at sailing.”