Stott and Baillie took canoe showdown in their stride
Published 03/08/2012 | 11:40
Etienne Stott and Tim Baillie treated their gold medal run in the canoe slalom like any other race, it emerged today.
Baillie's girlfriend Sarah Boudens, who canoed in the Beijing Olympics for Canada, said the crew dealt with the pressure of the 12,000 capacity crowd cheering them on by thinking of the race as just another competition.
The pairing, who are sixth in the world in the two-man C2 category, were rank outsiders for a medal. After only just making the final, they were first to race down the whitewater course at Lee Valley.
But unlike their compatriots David Florence and Richard Hounslow, who seemed to crack under the pressure of the home crowd in their individual races earlier in the week, the 33-year-olds kept their cool and posted what would prove an unbeatable time after a perfect run, unblemished with costly penalties.
The gold medal win represented a remarkable turnaround for the crew, who very nearly missed out on qualification after Stott dislocated his shoulder in a training last year.
Today, Baillie's 29-year-old girlfriend revealed getting the psychology of the race right had been key to their success.
She said: "The strategy was just to have a solid run. I said a time of 106 seconds in the final would be good enough for a medal. We just had to wait and see whether it would be gold.
"Tim and I spoke as if it was another competition. That was the way he dealt with the pressure.
"It was just a case of repeating what he had done in so many other races. They have had amazing support from the team's psychologist Katie Warriner, who has been working with them to help them with the pressure."
After missing out in Beijing in 2008 when they failed to post a quick enough time to qualify, Stott and Baillie had hoped for a clear run at the London games.
But their own qualification was thrown in to jeopardy when Florence, after winning Olympic silver in the individual canoe slalom, looked to increase his chances of gold and asked Hounslow to partner him in the two-man boat.
Fortunately, a rule change meant teams could enter two boats in the C2, if one was made up of competitors from the individual events.
But Stott admitted the prospect of not making the Olympics spurred them on, as he paid tribute to the medical team who helped him to overcome his injury in time for the games.
He said: "The injury didn't come to my mind during the race. Someone asked me about it afterwards. I didn't think about it. I have had great medical support - the surgeon who worked with me and the physio, right across the sport.
"I managed to rehabilitate my shoulder and I was good enough to do what I did. It's not something I think about when I am racing down the course as fast as I can on a day like this." He added: "We had two really strong boats. Olympic selection was difficult because only one of us could potentially go but actually I think that has prepared us for this race better than anything else.
"We had to really work on our psychology, to have the right mindset and not get distracted by the pressure but just do your best.
"It is always a surprise. You never know what the course is going to do when you come down. We had a job as athletes and we really worked hard at getting to know the gates and getting down as fast as we could. That was our main job."
The canoe slalom team had been under immense pressure before yesterday's medal haul, with Florence and Hounslow taking silver.
The canoeists had targeted three medals at this year's games and were potentially leaving it up to the sprinters, competing next week at Eton Dorney, to meet the quota.
But yesterday's victory means the sport, at an elite level, is likely to have a bright future in the run up to the games in Rio in 2016 and £4 million investment is already planned for the Lee Valley course.
At 25, Lizzie Neave, who was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the final of the women's K1, has already committed herself to attempting to make the team in four years' time.
But it remains to be seen whether the men - Florence is 29, Hounslow is 30 - will retire or continue to pursue their dream of gold.
Hounslow said: "We have never actually had a real job. If we decide to retire there are a lot of opportunities there for us but we just want to enjoy the moment and hold off on any big, life-changing decisions."
The only decision that has been made is that Baillie and Stott, who rent a house together only five minutes from the course, are going to move out to spend some more time with their families.