LUKE PATIENCE likens the lead-up to the Olympic Games as getting ready to go into battle.
It is then, perhaps no wonder that the Aberdonian quickly realised an extra 12 months to prepare for the deadliest combat of any athlete’s life could be spun into a positive.
The 34-year-old sailor has been through enough Olympic qualifying campaigns to know the stresses and strains ahead.
However, a year ago, before coronavirus hit the UK, Patience, along with his 470 class partner, Chris Grube, looked to be sitting pretty. The pair were among the very first athletes to be named in Team GB for Tokyo 2020 and so were able to turn their full attention to performing in Japan later that summer.
The postponement of the Games turned Patience’s plans on their head, but rather than be unsettled by the disruption caused by the pandemic over the last year, he drew on his vast experience and focused on the positives.
“I had really mixed emotions about the Olympics being postponed,” he says. “For a period, I was certainly more concerned about people’s safety.
“Then I started thinking that this thing I’d been preparing for for so long now wasn’t happening.
“But I’ve been doing this for such a long time and so one of my greatest skills is adapting to the circumstances. So I actually took it in my stride and pretty quickly I realised the benefits of having an extra year to prepare.
“Doing what we do is very stressful – getting ready for an Olympics isn’t a glamorous task. So to be given a bit of breathing space before going into battle is quite nice.
“I’m absolutely not running from the fight, but to have a little bit more time to prepare can’t be a bad thing.”
Patience certainly knows what needs to be done to achieve success at major championships.
In the course of an elite career already well over a decade long, Patience has garnered two World Championship silver medals, a European silver and bronze as well as Olympic silver in front of his home crowd at London 2012.
Patience’s Olympic selection for Tokyo stood despite the postponement of the Games and so the Scot had the luxury of navigating lockdown knowing his place in Team GB was guaranteed.
For some medal prospects, as Patience and Grube certainly are, the extra year of anticipation ahead of Tokyo would only serve to heighten the pressure but the Scot is far too level-headed to get caught up in any of those worries. Rather than feel increased pressure as he approaches his third Olympic Games, he feels far less anxiety than he did in his twenties.
“I feel less pressure now than I did ahead of London. There’s a few reasons for that – firstly, I’m acutely aware that an Olympics will never be as good as London for me, you can’t replicate a home Games and Stuart [Bithell] and I won a medal there,” he says.
“In my early twenties, the thought that I hadn’t made it until I’d been to the Olympics and won a medal was relentlessly on my mind. I don’t have that thought daily anymore so it’s less stressful in that sense.
“The drivers change and it’s not as stressful mainly because I’m more pragmatic about it all now. I know my best performance is good enough to win a gold medal so I don’t need to worry about that, what I need to do now is pour my energy into the things that can make me a little bit better each day. That’s a much different mindset to the one I had in my early twenties.”
Barring any cancellations, Patience has a number of outings planned before the Olympics. His primary focus is next month’s World Championships in Portugal but he remains entirely unconcerned about how many competitive outings he has between now and the summer.
In fact, there is a part of Patience that is well aware that the quieter the calendar prior to the Olympics, the better for him.
“The fewer competitions there are, the more that plays into my hands. It goes back to the experience I have in the bank. So if we don’t have many competitions, it wouldn’t faze me,” he says.
“The reality is that in the next five months, whatever happens ahead of the Olympics, I’m not going to get any better at sailing. I can improve certain elements; make the boat a bit faster, I can make myself stronger, I can make sure I’m well-rested but at the age of 34, I’m not going to suddenly become a better sailor, that’s not how it works. So I’m relaxed about what happens.”
For many athletes, motivation has been something of a struggle over the past year. Not for Patience however. Despite his body not feeling as young as it once did, he remains as driven as ever, with the thought of Olympic success this summer all he needs to ensure he puts nothing less than 100 percent into everything he does.
“My body hurts a lot more now than it used to. But mentally, I’m as up for it as I’ve ever been,” he says.
“And I’m totally in love with the Olympics – I always have been. The thought of being Olympic champion is enough for me.
“There are hard days but all things considered, I’m as driven as I’ve ever been.”