Fletcher-Scott begins quest for more Olympic glory with Hawes

The big question for any athlete after winning Olympic gold is what do you do once you’ve reached the summit?

For some, rebuilding that motivation to go again just is not possible, whereas others are driven to do it all over, to taste glory once more.

In the case of Tokyo 49er champions Stuart Bithell and Dylan Fletcher-Scott, those diverging paths meant for a parting of ways, the former calling it a day while the latter continued with the target of Paris.

That left Fletcher-Scott looking for a new partner and the search quickly narrowed to 2017 European Under-23 champion Rhos Hawes.

The duo officially joined forces in January with the clock already ticking for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games with just a three-year cycle following the postponement of Tokyo.

Fletcher-Scott explained his thought process: “I think the most important factor is do you still have that fire and hunger to do it again? After the Olympics I spent some time thinking about that.

“I was always quite keen but you never really know how you are going to feel having won a medal. Once I was happy that I wanted to do it again and thought it was worth it, always in the back of my mind was sailing with Rhos, we’d talked about it on the previous cycle if Stu stopped and I wanted to carry on.

“You still never know, it’s a big thing at the end of the day. From a lot of aspects, it felt like it was a really good fit.

“It takes a while to sink in (that you have won Olympic gold). It’s staggering to be Olympic champion. A lot of athletes go through it where you get a little depressed. You have done it and have this period where you are not sure what you are doing.

“Your life has been so structured from the day-to-day point of view. Then you think ‘What do I do?’. A lot of the other athletes I have spoken to went through the same thing. Then you get out the other side and set new challenges and you are straight back into it. It’s still surreal to think we did it. Every time I watch the video of the medal race it makes me a bit emotional.”

Where there was a necessary period of reflection for Fletcher-Scott, the equation was rather simpler for Hawes.

He said: “From my point of view, I always wanted to be the crew in Paris and it was a case of what was going to get me there.

“If Dylan came back and didn’t really want to, then I don’t know. But once he did, I’d have been an idiot to turn down the opportunity. It’s a good fit and he’s got the hunger so it works well.”

Filling the void left by Bithell is quite the challenge for Hawes, who knows that it would be a mistake to try to imitate his predecessor.

When asked about his approach, he said: “It’s an interesting balance because you look at how Dylan and Stu operated before and it was at the top level, gold-medal winning.

“There’s a real balance of taking learnings from that without trying to mirror it and copy it. I am my own sailor with my own strengths and weaknesses. You can take inspiration from what has been done before but realistically you have to go about your own goals.”

With Fletcher-Scott taking an extended break after Tokyo, the pair are currently looking to make up for lost time. Remarkably the Olympic trials will start in a year’s time so it is not a case of easing into the new partnership.

Equipment changes in the 49er class have made the first few months tricky, to the point that the pair are yet to complete a full regatta, a recent trip to Palma having to be cut short because of more breakages.

As part of the executive in the 49er class, Fletcher-Scott has been working hard to try to get to the bottom of the equipment issues which have blighted the early-season racing.

He explained: “All the proto kit was fantastic and now we are experiencing a lot of issues. It’s to the point that every fitting on the mast is having to be redesigned. The carbon tube is fine, that is built by a good manufacturer with good issues but everything else is terrible which is why we have had so many breakages.

“I’m part of the executive and we are working really hard to get over these problems.

“Palma was a nightmare to be honest. Every day was a really long day fixing equipment and we were broken before the regatta actually started.”

The plan now is to focus on resolving those equipment issues rather than racing, with the next trip to Marseille, the sailing venue for the 2024 Games, in mid-May.

That should give the duo an idea of the little adjustments that will be necessary by the Olympics, whether it is their equipment or even their own weight.

While both have already raced in Marseille before, it remains a relatively unfamiliar venue so any chance to scope it out will be invaluable.

After that trip, the schedule builds towards the big target for the year, the World Championships in Halifax in September.

Results are not generally the priority a year on from the previous Games, but the Worlds are the exception to that rule.

Fletcher-Scott said: “The plan is to be on the podium at the World Championships because that is a good goal but it’s also a really good indicator for medalling at the Games.”

He speaks from experience when he says this. The year after the Rio Olympics, Fletcher-Scott and Bithell claimed World Championship gold in Portugal to set them on their way to Tokyo success.

If Hawes can slot in and do the same in Nova Scotia later this year, then the signs will be looking good for Paris.

Sportsbeat 2022