Gimson and Burnet set sail for Tokyo 2020
Tokyo 2020

Gimson and Burnet set sail for Tokyo 2020

24 January 2020 / 07:00
After 20 years of obsessing, John Gimson will finally be able to call himself an Olympian come July.

Alongside partner Anna Burnet, 36-year-old Gimson will carry British hopes in the Nacra 17 on Enoshima waters after their selection to Team GB today, bringing to a close the loop that opened up when he first saw Sir Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy, Shirley Robertson et al carve their way to golds in Sydney 2000.

It was a moment that inspired him, that showed him his sailing fixation could lead all the way to sport’s summit.

Since then his passion has taken him all around the world, but never to an Olympic Games – until now.

After all that training, waiting, hoping, Gimson can finally reflect on those 20 years in context; without them, he would never be going to Tokyo.

John Gimson and Anna Burnet

“I followed the 2000 Olympics pretty closely – that was a big motivation, just to see what you could do with it,” he reminisced.

“I hadn’t quite realised the challenge ahead of me when I left youth sailing. We had the funding but were guided into the 470 class, so that was my first Olympic campaign – about 2003 or 2004.

“I got back into Olympic sailing with Stuart Bithell. We had done 470 sailing together and moved into the Tornado, which was the catamaran at the time.

“We sailed that for a year, aiming to go to the 2012 Olympics – so this would have been in 2007 – and then World Sailing dropped it as a discipline, so that was another setback.”

Though his dreams of competing at a home Olympics were crushed by the powers that be, that cycle was to be far from a lost cause.

In fact, Gimson’s big break came ahead of the London Games, but it was not to be as an athlete vying for selection.

“I ended up being Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson’s tuning partner up to the London Olympics,” the Congleton native explained.

“That was a breakthrough for me, just working with those guys and actually learning
what it really takes to win medals at the Olympics and how to campaign.

“I basically learnt the whole process of what they did and what it would take to actually do this and be successful at it.

“I had done the cycle before in the Nacra and narrowly missed out on the spot. I’d spent half of that cycle sailing with Pippa Wilson, who was a gold-medallist in Beijing, and Hannah Diamond in two different roles.

“I had a really big thing then about finding the right teammate, someone who was going to go the whole way and be good enough.

“I ran a bit of a crew trial to try and find a teammate and tried out with various people, and Anna was by far the best, she blew our socks off.”

Burnet, a relative newcomer when compared to Gimson’s vast experience, has nevertheless done her fair share of service in the name of Olympic qualification.

But while Gimson has had eyes only for the water since he was first taken out on Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, in the boat his dad was given as a 30th birthday present, 27-year-old Burnet has taken a more winding road.

“The Olympics in general – not necessarily Olympic sailing – I thought was incredible,” she said.

“I was into running and tennis when I was quite little; I think my aspirations were to be an 800m runner initially, which wouldn’t have gone very well!

“I had to pick sports when I was in my early teens, if I was going to do one seriously, so I chose sailing.

“From then on, I was quite Olympic-obsessed, so I just went from there, through the youth classes.”

Forming a partnership that clicked from the off back in 2016, the two have spent 300 days a year on the road as they put everything on hold for a tilt at Tokyo.

Hopes are certainly high, with silver at the Ready Steady Tokyo event back in August certainly auguring well.

And Shandon-born Burnet believes that their success is built on a truly symbiotic relationship, wondering whether, had she never tried out for Gimson’s boat, she would ever have reached this stage. 

“I’ve learnt so much from sailing; I’m pretty lucky to be sailing with John, because if I wasn’t there’s no way that I’d be going to this Olympics,” she continued.

“I think we complement each other really well in our skillsets.

 “We get on really well on and off the water, so that has made it a lot easier to always just be learning together; we never get annoyed at each other, which is quite special.

“I think we’re definitely aiming for a medal, we know we’ve got the ability for that – we won a silver medal at the Olympic test event.

“It’s going to take everything, and I think you need a bit of luck in sailing and a week to win gold anyway.

“I think we can do it, which is really motivating for us to train hard and make sure we’ve ticked off all of our weaker areas ready for the Olympics.”