Mathew Belcher’s pursuit of more Olympic success is charting a different course this time after a confronting couple of years for the champion sailor caused him to reconsider his priorities.
Waking up at home on Father’s Day on Sunday will be a rare treat for the Gold Coast-based 34-year-old. But it’s in line with his plan with wife Rike to forge a better life balance in the wake of a Rio Olympic campaign in which his personal and professional lives tumultuously collided.
“We found out on the same day we were announcing the Olympic team, so it was all quite emotional,” Belcher says of the news in late 2015 that his newborn daughter Amelie had Down Syndrome.
“I’ve always tried to balance my family side of things with the Olympic side of things as well as I can. But when those things came to a crossroad on the same day, it really put a few things into perspective.”
Belcher, who won Olympic Gold in London in 2012, says he’s always been fortunate to have plenty of support as he travelled around forging his career. Yet, even with that backing, being away from Amelie, Rike and first-born child, Anton, in the lead up to Rio was particularly tough.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d keep going,” he says.
“With Will [crew Will Ryan] and Victor [coach Victor Kovalenko], the Olympics and everything else, I had that feeling that so much was going on. Everything seemed to happen in that last year. Even during the Games, there were storms and protests, just so many things we were overcoming as a team.”
Belcher and Ryan performed brilliantly to capture a Silver Medal in Rio, one of four medals won by Australian crews. In July this year, at the 470 World Championship in Greece, they secured a fourth title together and Belcher’s seventh world crown overall. However, if Belcher is to win a medal in Tokyo in 2020 - which would make him the nation’s most decorated Olympic sailor - it will come about in a different way to his many previous triumphs.
“It’s a different approach this campaign,” he says.
“We’re doing a lot more domestic-based training, less travelling. It’s very hard, spending time on tour, missing time when your kids are growing up.
“I’m trying to use it as a big motivator. Every time I’m away from my family I try to make every minute, every hour, every day really count. It’s hard to be away, it’s a lot of pressure for my wife and it’s hard also for the kids. Being so young, they find it hard to understand why I’m away. It certainly gives you the feeling that you can’t afford to stuff it up. You can’t afford to make silly mistakes.”
Apart from spending more time with his family, Belcher is focusing on developing the national 470 program at Australian Sailing’s new training site on the Gold Coast. He says he feels passionately about supporting the merge of the women’s and men’s programs. He also runs a sailing program at Southport Yacht Club up to three days a week. And, for good measure, he is studying for a double Masters degree.
“There is still a lot going on,” Belcher concedes. “It’s guess it’s hard to put into words, but being a professional athlete is quite a selfish thing to do. It’s very difficult for my wife and family and friends. It’s really not easy.
“I’m just really proud that my wife and I said that we want to try to balance both, to change the way we go about things in this campaign. It seems like it’s working at the moment.”
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