For windsurfer Nick Dempsey the London 2012 Olympics marks an opportunity in which he can finally lay the ghosts of Beijing to rest. It is four agonisingly long years since he finished fourth and just missed out on collecting another Olympics medal to add to the bronze he achieved in Athens.
Dempsey entered the 2008 Games with high hopes of improving upon his third placed finish fours years previously. Going into the final medal race in the silver-medal position he was just one point off gold. In a ferociously competitive encounter in which the slightest error can mean ultimate success or failure, he pushed too hard and finished in a frustrating seventh place, ending his chase for another Olympic medal as he finished fourth overall.
So was this fourth place even more disappointing than his 16th place finish at the Sydney Olympics at the beginning of his career?
“Oh yeah, massively,” admits Dempsey, with a clear sense of regret. “Your first games is your first games. I was only 19 and, although I was good, I had no experience and you’re not quite sure how to handle the pressure of the Olympics.
“It was disappointing but I had a massive career ahead of me whereas in China it hurt a lot. But you have to have a bit of everything and a bit of failure doesn’t do anyone any harm. Hopefully I have learnt lessons from that and I am feeling good about the future.”
Dempsey certainly channeled the frustration in an impressive manor as the next 12 months brought unbridled joy and success in both his personal and professional life. In late 2008 he married childhood sweetheart Sarah Ayton, herself an Olympic gold medalist in Beijing, before he became the RS:X World Champion in 2009.
The duo had put their wedding plans on hold since 2001 while concentrating on competing at the Olympics and finally they both had plenty to celebrate. Now Dempsey must continue his rigorous training schedule while looking after his two young children Thomas and Oscar.
“Any full on job where one of you spends a lot of time away from home is hard. Luckily I have an amazing wife and she takes the brunt of the parenting and allows me to really focus on my Olympic campaign,” explains Dempsey, who had just two days away from training over Christmas.
“If I could ever emulate what my wife did it would be pretty impressive on a number of levels. She is someone that inspires me and is someone who has been there and done it. If I could ever achieve close to what she has then I would be happy.”
While Sarah offers plenty of encouragement, do his training partners ever remind him of the fact that he cannot match her achievements? “No, that is just the journalists,” he jokes as the conversation turns to London.
As we speak it is less than 40 days until the Olympic opening ceremony. Dempsey has already secured his place on the team and he admits that should the Games start tomorrow then he would be ready to compete. However, this is perhaps the most important period of the last four years. It is a time for fine-tuning and praying there are no injuries.
“It really is about making sure everything now goes to plan. Training has been pretty full on but now it is becoming more tailored and tapered. It is really about staying healthy.”
At 31-years-of-age, Dempsey has a wealth of experience, yet he reveals that this Olympics feels slightly different. There is normally a disconnection between the fans and the athletes as they are often on the other side of the world come competition time.
This time round it has been very different. Living and training in Weymouth, where the windsurfing will take place, he has been able to see the entire venue built from scratch, as have the local residents and school children who came out en-masse to show Dempsey their support just days ago.
“It is really nice to gain so much support from the local community,” admits Dempsey. “They have been involved and have seen all the infrastructures being put in place and the marina being built. I think they are proud of the area and proud to be hosting the Olympic Games.”
While he may not gain any sort of home advantage, Dempsey does have fond memories of his performances at Weymouth.
“I’ve never not finished on the podium here in Weymouth so that is pretty good and I don’t think anyone else can say that. I am just hoping that it will all come together in less than six weeks and I can get another win.”
Four years is a long time to wait to gain some semblance of redemption. It may also be Dempsey’s last opportunity as the decision was announced to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Should he finally land that elusive gold then he hopes to have some influence with the International Olympic Committee.
“There isn’t a lot I can do right now other than try and win a gold medal, then I would have a bit more influence and may be able to overturn the decision. Until then I am just remaining focused on what needs to be done.”
Certainly no-one would begrudge this incredibly hard-working athlete landing a much-deserved gold at London. Should it happen then don’t count against windsurfing being back in the Olympic programme in Brazil.
SSE is a supporter of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy helping them to generate 20% of their energy through renewable sources by this Summer. For more information on making your home greener visit sse.co.uk/beinggreen
Image courtesy of RichardBudd.co.uk.