Ben Rhodes & Stevie Morrison, Olympic Sailing Hopefuls from Exmouth Devon

PUBLISHED: 16:51 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 20 February 2013

The pair racing a 49er - one of the fastest. most demanding sailing dinghies around

The pair racing a 49er - one of the fastest. most demanding sailing dinghies around

Hot favourites at this summer's Olympics, Ben Rhodes and Stevie Morrison, two young Exmouth sailors, have their sights set on gold

Ben Rhodes and Stevie Morrison are two young local sailors currently making huge waves on the professional sailing circuit. Until recently the Exmouth-based sailors were both current European and World Champions in the 49er class - one of the fastest, most demanding sailing dinghies around today.

Ben, 26, and Stevie, 28, recently returned from Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Australia, where they narrowly failed to retain their crown on the final day of the 49er championships, having to settle for silver for their team, Team Skandia GBR. However, their disappointment was tempered somewhat by news the day before that they had been selected for Britain's Olympic squad for the Beijing Olympics this summer - the culmination of an exceptional year for the pair.

"It would have been nice if we could have defended our title, as our reign as World Champions has been relatively short-lived," said Ben. "But all our plans for this year are geared towards China so we've only really had two weeks training out here for this event. Our eyes are on the bigger prize in Beijing, so if we have to swap our World Championship title for an Olympic gold this year then we'll be happy with that!"

Stevie has 12 major national and international titles to his name, including recently winning gold at the 2007 Olympic test event in Quingdao, China.

Ben and Stevie began their sailing careers as youngsters at Exe Sailing Club. Stevie, however, wasn't quite so enthusiastic about sailing to begin with, as he explained: "We've both been club members since we were about five years old but Ben was always more into sailing than me; at that age I was more interested in football. When I was about ten I started sailing Cadets, which have always been a strong class at the club, and it just went from there really."

Aged 11 he began sailing Cadets in Eastbourne, his home town. From the start he showed an immense natural talent and a very rational head for one so young.

Once he had developed a passion for dinghy racing in the youth classes there was no holding him back, and he soon qualified to join the British 49er squad. After a run of top-ten results, Stevie's first major 49er class victory was at the Holland Olympic Classes regatta in 2005.

Following that taste of victory the podium finishes increased, and in 2006 Ben and Stevie built on this international success, winning a bronze medal at the 49er World Championships and later being crowned European Champions in Weymouth and Portland.

It's not surprising that Exe Sailing Club has seen so many of its youngsters rise up through the ranks. The club is a Volvo Championship Club, having a junior race-training programme that is assessed by the RYA, with a lot of support in terms of professional coaching. Rick Newcombe is the club's Junior Captain and the Principal of Exe Sailing Club Training Centre. "We have quite a few juniors racing in the Cadet National Squad - exactly the same way in which Ben and Stevie started out," said Rick. "The Exe estuary isn't an easy place to sail as it's very tidal with fluky winds, but the conditions here do seem to breed some very good sailors."

The 49er is undoubtedly one of the most exciting racing classes, not only to compete in but also for spectators. Designed by skiff supremo Julian Bethwaite, the two-person one-design skiff has an ultra-light, slender hull with remarkable solid 'wings' which the helmsman and crew perch on, hanging from a trapeze. The hull design, together with its enormous sail area, which includes an asymmetric spinnaker, results in a boat with phenomenal speed in the right conditions.

2007 has been an incredible year for this formidable laid-back duo, who have finished on the podium in nearly every event they have entered. The highlights of their season were winning the ISAF World Championships in Cascais, Portugal, as well as their first position in Quingdao, where they were the sole boat selected to represent Great Britain at the games. These results, along with their consistently high standard of sailing, have catapulted the duo to become the top British 49er team in a highly competitive British fleet. They were also fortunate to renew their partnership with Group 4 Securicor at the end of 2007. The company is now the main title sponsor, which has taken the huge burden of funding for their campaign off their shoulders, and they can now afford the best kit for their Olympic campaign.

Stevie and Ben will be spending the next few months flitting between the UK and their training camp in Palma, Majorca, where they will put in the many hours of training to get them to the peak of fitness and ability for their Olympic campaign. They are leaving nothing to chance in their bid for Olympic glory, and underneath their laid-back demeanour it's clear they really mean business. No doubt every sailor in Devon will be willing them on to victory this summer.


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