Olympic-bound Squires ready for second shot at Tokyo

"It is an opportunity. You can either take it or leave it but the outcome is the same, the Games are a year and a half away. I think athletes, a bit like businessmen, will take the opportunity."

Tom Squires feared his Olympic dream had gone. Every news bulletin, every tweet and story he read suggested the Tokyo Games would be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a cruel twist at the end of a long journey for athletes around the world.

But with the Games only postponed to 2021, a gap has now opened and Team GB’s debutant windsurfer is determined to blast right through it.

After all, 16 years after Squires’ journey started, what’s one more to wait? Born and raised in Oxfordshire, the best part of two hours away from the nearest beach, Squires did not touch a board until he was 11 and, until last year, he only really saw it as a bit of fun.

He spent the first portion of his career as Nick Dempsey’s training partner, helping the five-time Olympian to his third medal at Rio 2016. Last year, he almost gave up windsurfing altogether to pursue his other passion of gardening.

It was only 12 months ago, when he was in Japan for an Olympic qualifier and relying on equipment he admits was “almost unprofessional”, that it hit him how much he wanted to become an Olympian.

Now, he believes the delayed Games could be a blessing in disguise and increase his chances of a medal.

“I think I will be going to the Olympics in 2021 with much more structure and clarity and with a better shot at winning a medal instead of going gung-ho,” he said.

“I was fretting it was going to be cancelled and so the fact it’s been delayed is, in a way, fantastic news. But then it didn’t take long to realise that, crikey it’s a long way away.

“I could quite easily be gardening, instead of putting myself through this. I did a college course in that and it’s something I really enjoy, so I could be doing that and doing it quite happily.

“But if you want something and you believe in it and push for it, it can change your path so much.”

Squires’ path has taken him all round the world. From Australia and Japan to Bulgaria and Poland, the 26-year-old is living the dream.

But it’s only 12 months since he hit a fork in the road.

“I went to a test event with one boom and one sail last year, which is so below the minimum, almost unprofessional because if things break and don’t go right then I would have wasted all my time and money into getting here,” he said.

“So I had to beg, borrow and steal anything. I even got a sail from a Maltese windsurfer! And it was at that point that I realised my life could go one of two ways. Can I push forwards and qualify or will I have to go and get a normal job?

“I needed to finish third at the Olympic test event last summer and that was the defining moment because a top-three spot would have seen me qualify, and I finished fourth. I dropped one place in the final race and that was it. I was devastated.

“That was my ticket and I missed it so I had this rollercoaster of emotions from that. So the manager said I had to go to the next event in a couple of days, and I realised I wanted this more than I really knew.

“I was so gutted to miss out and that surprised me a little bit, how much I really wanted it. So I went to the next event and qualified. I wanted it more than anything and it was such a relief.

“My first flight abroad was to Poland to compete in the European Championships, so this has given me some big opportunities to go and see the world. That’s what I love about the Olympics. It could be anyone that makes it.”

In Squires’ camp is the familiar name of Dempsey, who’s acting as his coach.

But no-one coach could have prepared for the current lockdown, with athletes across the world forced to make do with an exercise bike and an one-hour walk.

“I am in Oxford with my parents. When the lockdown was announced I knew I needed to get away from the sea because otherwise I would drawn to it and it would torture,” Squires added.

“It is the longest I’ve not been out on the water I think, so I am getting twitchy now.

“I have a rower and exercise bike here and the team have been running Turbo Tuesdays and Turbo Thursdays so that is stuff on the rowing machines and then chip golf balls in my parents’ garden.

“I love being outside. I don’t think I could last in an office and it’s now that you appreciate being able to be outdoors and see the world.”

Much will change in the next 15 months, and when Squires is able to get back on the water is worryingly uncertain.

But what won’t change is just how much it will mean when he touches down in Japan.

“I can’t wait. When I qualified I called my parents. They were shocked because it was all so surreal,” he added. “I am just this boy from Oxfordshire so to do a sport on the water when you’re from the middle of the country is crazy. You do it for yourself but you always do it for those around you.

“We did not celebrate too much. It was just relief. I wrote letters to people thanking them for believing in me and that was very humbling. You don’t have to be anyone else but yourself.”

Sportsbeat 2020