Rochdale News | Sports News | Stuart Bithell on his retirement from Olympic sailing



Date published: July 28, 2022


Stuart Bithell fought off a major gong off New Zealand and now he hopes to do so again.

The Rochdale sailor, 35, beat defending champions the Kiwis to win gold in the men’s 49er alongside Dylan Fletcher at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

Bithell retired from Olympic sailing late last year and is now channeling his energy into bringing the America’s Cup back to Britain when New Zealand will seek to defend the sport’s oldest international trophy in 2024.

“The old phrase keeps coming up that I retired, which is a weird word to say because I didn’t feel like I had a job,” he said.

“I left Olympic sailing but I’m still a professional sailor, I moved on to slightly different areas of the sport, slightly bigger teams and the professional circuit.

“I’m really enjoying that and trying to develop myself as a sailor now, doing cool things and hopefully fingers crossed will help Ben Ainslie bring the Cup back.

“I’m still a long way from taking part in the America’s Cup, but I’m developing as a sailor for these kinds of boats. It’s going to be a tricky old road getting it out of New Zealand at the moment.

“I think it would be great, it would bring the Cup back to the UK, probably to Cowes, because that’s where it all started, and it would be a good story.

“But it would bring so many jobs, so many opportunities. It would certainly be inspiring because they are the coolest boats in the world, there would be a lot of media, a lot of budget around.

“It would be really good for the country and for sailing and again it all comes down to hopefully inspiring people.”

Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, is skipper and CEO of INEOS Britannia, which was confirmed as a Challenger of Record last year, giving him the chance to shape the rules and Regulations of the America’s Cup Regatta.

INEOS Britannia will be one of the teams looking to be New Zealand’s only challengers in the 37th America’s Cup, to be decided by its own regatta earlier in 2024.

Bithell, who is currently part of the Swiss SailGP team, was speaking ahead of the release of ‘Chasing Tokyo’, an Olympic Channel in-depth documentary following the British sailing team for 18 months ahead of Tokyo 2020 – released on July 28 .

The British team are the most successful sailing nation at the Olympics and topped the medal table in Tokyo for the fifth time in six games, but have often failed to capture the nation’s attention.

That’s something the film hopes to change, with Bithell citing Ben Ainslie’s departure from the Olympic program in 2012 as a great loss to the stature of sailing in Britain.

He added: “We have lost some big names. When Ben Ainslie left the program he brought great success to our sport in the country and was probably one of the most famous sailors in the world.

“The British sailing team lost him and he moved on to other projects and there wasn’t that superstar coming back but now we have those superstars.

“Hannah Mills, the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time, she is incredible.

“We can’t control that, we can control giving our best at the Olympics and hopefully capturing the imaginations of young people to get into the sport, even adults for Getting into the sport is a cool thing to be a part of on the water.”

Watch Chasing Tokyo on Olympics.com

Ruth J. Leeds