Family's joy for Rochdale's Olympic sailing golden boy
Family and friends of Team GB’s sailing golden boy Stuart Bithell gathered in his home town to watch his heart-stopping, finishing-line first place win.
Bithell, 34, from Rochdale, and his helm Dylan Fletcher, 33, from Market Harborough, went into the 49er medal race in second place but finished in first, just ahead of their German rivals, with the lead changing hands throughout the race.
The tense finish saw Bithell’s mother, Viv, waving a Union flag, and his father, Les, joyfully hugging each other as friends watched the race at Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club near Rochdale, where it all began for the Olympic champion.
After anxious minutes willing the Team GB pair on with shouts of: “Come on Stuart!” cheers and clapping erupted when they finally took gold in Tokyo.
Mrs Bithell, 68, told the PA news agency: “It’s been really exciting and we are absolutely delighted with what’s happened.
“I was convinced they had got it, but it was a bit hairy with the Germans at the end.
“We’ve spoken to him on Facetime and he’s absolutely beaming and can’t believe it, he said himself it’s not sunk in yet, so there’s going to be some celebrations going in the next week or so.”
Mr Bithell, 67, said he did not push his son into the sport, but Stuart’s own enthusiasm shone through as he grew up, with the youngster always asking his parents to take him to the sailing club at Hollingworth, which gave him a solid grounding.
From the age of 16 he became focused to win, the family travelling across the UK and abroad as he competed in regatta competitions, before he took silver in the 470 class alongside Luke Patience at London 2012.
The pandemic meant the proud parents were unable to see their son win gold in person Mrs Bithell said: “We we’re all booked up to go, twice, we were really looking forward to going and obviously it’s not happened, but we’ve been able to watch the sailing very intently and today has been really nice actually, at the sailing club, where it all started with all his friends.”
And his parents hope their son’s achievement will inspire the next generation of young sailors at Hollingworth.
Mrs Bithell said: “They’ve been so supportive and you ask them what he’s been doing throughout the year and they all know what he’s up to, they are watching him on Facebook and Instagram, they are so interested.
“They are all on the front line today watching the racing, it’s been fabulous.”
Bithell’s partner cracked open the champagne to celebrate as she watched the final in Poole, Dorset.
Katherine Kimber told Good Morning Britain: “We are at Parkstone Yacht Club and they had a few bottles in the fridge so, yeah, we’ve cracked that open.
“It was just so tense right into the last second, it was just amazing to watch.”