WERE Helensburgh and the wider surrounding Lomond area to suddenly decide to strike out on their own and declare immediate independence from the rest of Great Britain then they still wouldn’t be the smallest nation represented at this summer’s Olympics if they go ahead. Far from it, in fact.

Nineteen countries took part in the Rio Games in 2016 with a team of three athletes or fewer. Any newly-formed People’s Republic of Helensburgh and Rhu would march proudly into the Tokyo Opening Ceremony represented by at least four of their own. And all of them with medal aspirations, too.

“It’s ridiculous how many of us are going,” says Luke Patience, one of the quartet of sailors who spent their formative years at the Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club. “There must be something in the water.

“We have the largest presence in the sailing team in terms of a singular club. I don’t know why that is. The River Clyde has a long history of yachting – those gorgeous 12metre boats with the wooden mastheads – but it’s nothing like the south coast of England where there are boats everywhere.

“So I think it must just be the people there who have made all this happen, especially the mums and dads who introduced sailing to us as nippers as they loved the sport. They instilled that excitement and passion in us all.”


Tokyo, should it still take place, will be a third Olympic outing for Patience who will reprise his 2016 partnership with Chris Grube in the 470 event having won silver in London 2012 with Stuart Bithell.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone ever becoming blasé about going to an Olympics but the 33-year-old does admit having been over the course before does help.

“The three of them have all felt different at this stage,” he adds. “But there are certain things that you become accustomed to and are definitely better at in terms of your planning and approach.

“But the excitement doesn’t change. That’s still the dominant feeling. And it’s still only my third Olympics. Doing something three times in your entire life isn’t really that often is it?”

What has changed is, however, are the rules. And it has made preparations for Tokyo for Patience a lot more physically demanding.

“One of the rules in my discipline has been slightly altered,” explains Patience. “It effectively means you can pump more than you used to be able to. So you now need to be stronger and fitter for the role to make the boat faster.

“Right now I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. But I’ve had to work bloody hard to get to that point. I’ve noticed the difference in my body compared to my first Olympics in London where I responded quicker so I’ve had to dig in a bit more for it this time.”

London was, he admits, a life-changing experience. Earning that silver medal made all the years spent on the water worthwhile, both for him but also for his parents who “went through a lot of shit” to help him.

“It was definitely a self-fulfilment thing. That was the biggest life-changer. There were other side benefits that came with it like getting a little bit of recognition among the sailing world. But the main thing was getting that medal.

“Okay, it wasn’t gold, but it gives you a little bit of satisfaction that you got it right. The big thing as I look back now is that it’s created a unique bond with Stuart – my old team-mate – as we moved mountains as young lads.

“But also to be be able to sit and have a glass of wine at Christmas with my mum and dad and say “look what we did” as they were so integral to the whole journey. We were a wee broke family with nae cash from the west of Scotland and we took on the world.”

The aim this time, though, is gold. Patience won’t “do a [Steve] Redgrave” and say this will definitely be his final Olympics but, with his event being phased out, there’s a decent chance it might be.

“Going for gold is the attitude, philosophy and culture that we have in the team. But to be able to say you were a three-time Olympian and double medallist – regardless of the colour – is still something I would look back on and consider a success. But have to be going there totally believing we can win gold.

“If you’re world champion, you’re world champion for a year. If you become Olympic champion, then you’re the Olympic champion forever.”