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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 13:46 GMT
Sailing stars buoyant for Beijing
By Rob Hodgetts

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes
Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes are Britain's Olympic 49er crew

"You've got to be cool to be a good 49er sailor."

So says Exmouth's Stevie Morrison, and he should know.

Morrison is one of the coolest of the cool. He's a European and former world champion, and a hot tip to win Olympic gold for Britain in Beijing this summer.

The 29-year-old and his crew Ben Rhodes, 26, were pipped to a second world title in Melbourne this month, but they are more focused on becoming Olympic champions in August.

The 49er they sail is a powerful 16ft dinghy which can skitter at up to 20 knots across the water with the boys standing on wings and suspended from trapeze wires, perched on the edge of control.

"It's the coolest of the Olympic classes," Morrison told BBC Sport.

"It's pretty exhilarating when you're on the trapeze, you're right out over the side and you're skimming along just hung on this little rope only a foot above the water.

"It's a spectacular boat that lends itself to falling over quite easily if you don't get it quite right. It's very much a 'crash and bang' sort of sailing and definitely the most fun. It's the closest to windsurfing of all the sailing boats."

Ben Rhodes and Stevie Morrison
Rhodes (left) and Morrison won the world title in 2007

As helm, Morrison's job is to steer, assess the wind, monitor the opposition and formulate tactics, while Rhodes is the action man - in perpetual motion, hoisting and setting sails and generally bounding around the boat.

"With any sailing you've got to be good at doing lots of different jobs at once. You've got to keep a clear mind and you've got to be agile and quick on your feet," said Morrison.

"Ben has to be exceptionally fit and his fitness levels are up there with any Olympians, except maybe the rowers."

Their Olympic campaign has taken the boys to Portugal, China and Australia (twice) since July, and they will gear up for Beijing with a series of nine-day training stints in Palma, Majorca, leading up to the European Championship from 21-28 March, followed by a handful of regattas around Europe.

"We're hugely privileged to be able to do it," said Morrison, who got into hot water for naming his boat after a racily titled Kooks song about a girl called Jackie.

"It's what we've always dreamed of doing, travelling around and sailing in all these beautiful places. It's awesome, but it's hard on family and home life."

To complement the lifestyle, and help keep the fitness up, they indulge in extreme sports such as mountain biking and kite-surfing in their spare time.

"I can do some jumps and some twizzly things kite-surfing but I have to be careful. I ain't very good at sailing if I've got a broken leg," said Morrison.

If you really want to find out how good you are, you've got to go to the Olympics

Stevie Morrison

He grew up in Exmouth and sailed from an early age because of his parents' boatbuilding business, though he confesses he was "scared witless of water" up to the age of about 10 and didn't really enjoy it.

Football and hockey were his first loves but by the age of 13 or 14 he rekindled his enthusiasm for sailing in Cadet dinghies.

"We had a really strong club scene down here and were lucky in that we had a lot of the best guys in the world, let alone the country," said Morrison, an avid Liverpool fan.

At the age of 17, Morrison's sailing took a back seat to hockey as his school team, under the tutelage of the England under-18 coach, won the national schools championship.

But having made a conscious decision not to go to university, the spur to getting Morrison back into boats was the need to get a job.

"I actually went to work for a sailmaker in the Midlands, which may seem like a slightly odd place," he said.

Ben Rhodes (left) and Stevie Morrison
The pair mastered Qingdao's tricky conditions in the Olympic test event

At the weekends he raced a two-man Fireball dinghy at regattas all around the country, promoting his employer's products.

"I won the world championship in 2001 and was generally in the first three nationally in different boats," he said.

"But Olympic sailing is where the best dinghy sailors in the world are, so if you really want to find out how good you are, you've got to go to the Olympics."

Spurred on by his best friend Joe Glanfield, who won silver in the 470 dinghy at the Athens Games, Morrison joined up with Rhodes, another Exmouth sailor, in 2002 to race the 49er.

After a host of top results they won a bronze medal at the 2006 worlds and followed it up with gold at the Europeans later that year.

606: DEBATE

Last July, they clinched the world title in Portugal and went on to win the Olympic test event in Qingdao. But they were edged out of gold-medal position in the last race in the world championships in Melbourne earlier this month.

The pair, however, remain philosophical after taking a few months off in the autumn to recharge their batteries.

"This year the world championship was lower on our scale," said Morrison. "Our goal is the Olympics.

"Then we're firmly set on going through to London 2012 and doing it all again."

Stevie Morrison is among the British athletes BBC Sport will be following during the countdown to Beijing 2008.

SEE ALSO
Olympic sailors take World silver
09 Jan 08 |  Olympics & Olympic sport
Ainslie among first Olympic picks
08 Jan 08 |  Olympics & Olympic sport
Morrison & Rhodes take 49er gold
13 Jul 07 |  Sailing
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Start sailing
14 Oct 05 |  Sailing


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