“THEY say you should always be most fearful of the person that finished fourth at the Games before,” says sailor turned broadcaster and podcaster, Shirley Robertson.

At the 2000 Olympics, that person was Robertson herself. The Dundee-born sailor had only narrowly missed out on a medal at Atlanta and it would fuel the fire that led to her claiming a memorable gold in Sydney Harbour four years later.

That success propelled the then 32 year-old into wider prominence and provided her with an instant sense of relief that she wasn’t going to be “one of those athletes that commits a lifetime to something but walks away empty-handed”.

The gold medal in the Europe class was achieved on the back of hard work, meticulous planning and the support of her team. But it was borne out of bitter disappointment.

“I had finished fourth in the Games before which is terrible,” she recalls on the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough moment in Sydney.

“It’s like a bereavement – nobody knows what to say to you. You come home and your phone never rings as nobody knows how to deal with it. But in hindsight it was the making of me as a sailor to have had such a dramatic loss. I was analytical about it, worked on the things I wasn’t good at and changed the team around me. And my work ethic after Atlanta was really high.”

Those alterations saw her installed as the favourite to take gold in Sydney. And, although she felt becalmed by the setting, she can’t recall ever feeling that it was a done deal.

“Not many people win a gold medal so your odds are not good!” she laughs. “And it was my third Olympics so I wasn’t arrogantly thinking about winning. It almost felt like too much had to line up for it to happen.

“But I was more relaxed in Sydney. I remember coming off the start line in Atlanta and my back leg was shaking with nerves. I couldn’t sail the boat properly. There was none of that in Sydney. I was well-prepared, confident and liked the venue. It was never going to be straightforward but I was much more chilled. I was a very different kind of athlete four years on.”

Robertson felt at ease on the Sydney track, with its view of the famous harbour bridge and opera house, the crowds lining the pavements to watch and the smell and feel of the ocean nearby. But there was still some late drama to navigate before she could properly enjoy her moment.

“There were two races on the final day and I really messed up in the first one. I thought I was going to be one of those athletes that chokes on the big occasions. But I spoke to my coach who had done the maths and worked out I had done enough to get a medal. He told me to relax and reset ahead of the final race and we did enough to win gold.”

Great Britain had topped the podium only once in Atlanta meaning the goldrush that followed four years later was met with an outpouring of adulation. Robertson milked every moment of it.

“Sydney was a massive turnaround for British sport but in my sport particularly,” she adds. “We came away with three golds and two silvers. In Atalanta we only got two silvers. It just felt like it was the beginning of a great time within the sport and a real celebration.

“The medal ceremony was fantastic for us, on the steps of the opera house. And the background was the bridge with the Olympic rings on it. The place was packed and the atmosphere was incredible. There must have been tens of thousands of people there.

“The reaction was crazy, a whirlwind of photo shoots, TV and the open-top bus around Edinburgh There was all sorts of madness. In one paper I was naked and painted gold for a photo shoot! I wouldn’t say it was life-changing as you have to get on with your life but you definitely have an extra confidence that you can make things happen.”

Buoyed by that success, Robertson went on to become the first British woman to win gold at successive Olympics as part of the “three blondes in a boat” Yngling team in Athens.

“I felt a different kind of responsibility in Athens as I had two people with me. And they were maybe looking for me to make the right calls. But there was an extra confidence in my decision-making on the back of what had happened in Sydney.”

Now there is talk of an Olympic comeback in 2024 after the French pushed to have offshore sailing included at the Paris Games. Robertson isn’t ruling it out.

“A lot has to line up between now and then for that to happen. But for the first time in a long while I’m really enjoying being back out on the water again.”