Team GB windsurfer Tom Squires is preparing for his debut Olympics - but he would happily be working away in the garden instead.
The 27-year-old former training partner of three-time Olympic medallist Nick Dempsey was a late developer in the sport, but will go to Tokyo having risen above more experienced team-mates to earn a place at the Games.
“My attention span as a kid was terrible,” Squires told Eurosport, as he prepares for this week’s Windsurfing World Championships.
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I just had so much enjoyment with my grandfather gardening and leaving it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made.
“My parents let me park my apprenticeship, when I said 'I really want to windsurf'. For parents to let me do that, it's pretty bold.”
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Squires’ love for the sport was never intended to get this serious. He took it up when he was 11 on holiday in Cornwall but quit full-time gardening to move to the National Sailing Centre 11 years ago.
“My parents had a caravan so we drove around sailing clubs in the UK, but it was just never really on my radar that I could be an Olympian or an elite sports person," he said.
“I was just going to be a gardener and I loved gardening and being outside.
I still miss gardening. When I moved down to Weymouth, I still couldn't drive and I wasn't earning any money so I just started doing some gardening for Nick Dempsey, and for some of the sailors.
“But it was pretty hardcore, my back was pretty sore from windsurfing all day and gardening. I can't juggle both things properly, but I still miss it. I'll skip gardening for a bit to go to the Olympics though!”
Squires has effectively earned qualification for the Games twice. The selection period began in 2019 and after coming through the trials, he pipped other windsurfers who had been in the sport for a lot longer, and already won major titles.
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When Tokyo 2020 was delayed, there was concern he may have to do it all again, before it was confirmed by the British Sailing Team that those originally selected would be retained. One less bit of stress to contend with, then, but Squires says it has been a tricky year.
“It's been really difficult travelling and in sailing, we just have so much travelling in the winter because it's just so bitter in the UK,” he said.
Especially with Brexit and carnets to come in and out of Europe with your boat. It's got super complicated but on the water, once you get out to Spain, France, where we're training, you just feel so lucky and only feel privileged to be on the water, especially with Covid.
“As an athlete, you're always trying to control your environment. So with the lockdowns, the uncertainties, you just feel super anxious about what's coming, what's happening.
“Where are the World Championships? Are they going to happen? Can they happen? It's been really stressful.”
Squires is in Cadiz, Spain, to compete in the World Championships, a final major tune-up ahead of his Olympic debut. He says it is a competition he is taking seriously.
“With the European Championships which happened in February, it was just a relief to be racing, and to get to Portugal which was on the (coronavirus travel) red list.
“It was more about going to a competition than racing. But you're always thinking, this is a chance to put your name out there, to get funding.
“This World Championships, though, this is about trying to win a medal. The Europeans were about process, this is about outcomes.
I'm always learning where my strengths and weaknesses are. This, for sure, is an outcome event - I'm fully charged for it. I feel I'm in a good place and I'm ready to go.
When Squires is asked about the Olympics, a huge grin appears on his face and it is clear it is still difficult to comprehend that he has been selected. Having dealt with a global pandemic for over a year, he is sure Tokyo will be a welcome tonic.
“The Olympic buzz, it's so powerful,” he said.
“Hopefully it'll be a reset button for everyone to be more united, more positive. The summer's coming, people like experiencing the emotion of the Games.
“If people can be inspired by my windsurfing too, well that's the best thing I can hope for.”
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