YOU might remember Bryony Shaw from Beijing as the Olympian who hit the headlines for swearing on live television.
The windsurfer made the gaffe when asked by the BBC how she felt after clinching bronze in a dramatic race in Qingdao. “I’m quite an emotional and passionate person, and although I cringe in hindsight, it does pretty much sum up how I felt at that time,” she said between laughs at Bewl Water this week. “It would be a dream come true if I got the gold in London but I promise I’ll try and hold back on the expletives.”
I met Bryony, a new resident of Tunbridge Wells, by the reservoir for a spot of one-to-one tuition. “I’m really sorry but there’s absolutely no wind at the moment,” she immediately apologised. “We’ll hold back a bit, have a chat, then we’ll get you on the simulator and once the weather changes we can go out for a play.” I was secretly hoping the weather wouldn’t turn as I was terrified of being snapped in a wetsuit by our sadistic photographer.
Decked out in a sponsor-laden white T-shirt, blue jeans and shades, the tanned 27-year-old, the first British woman to win an Olympic medal in the sport, spoke about the town she now calls home. “My boyfriend Greg grew up in Horsmonden, so Tunbridge Wells is his local town and he didn’t really have to convince me,” she said. “It’s close to the coast and to airports for when I travel, and it’s nice to have a little getaway away from sport. It’s got great restaurants and shops and we eat out at places like Sankeys and Woods. When we found a nice Edwardian flat I was completely sold on the place.”
When not abroad, Bryony is based in Weymouth, where her parents live and where the London 2012 regattas will take place. Her punishing training regime involves lots of weights, cycling, rowing, and as much time out on the water as possible to ensure she can cope with any weather condition which is thrown at her.
“We’re a bit like heptathletes," she said. "When the wind’s light you have to be strong and explosive to pump the equipment. The water can also be choppy, wavy or flat. Jessica Ennis has to be powerful for the shot put but also able to run. She has her weaker events and I’ll have my weaker conditions, but it’s all about playing to the strengths. Weymouth can have varied conditions so I have to be fully prepared.”
Speaking of wind, we still didn’t have any, and our photographer was getting restless.
Was utter calm out on the water a common problem? “England is pretty good for its weather," she replied. “Generally we’ll have weather systems coming through and there’ll be something going on. Sometimes you just have to wait for it to come in. We race over a week in a regatta, and you need a minimum of four races, so you’d hope to do that in that time.”
Light wind was also a problem in Beijing, where Bryony was inspired by a Princess Anne pep-talk over supper after disqualification in one race, for a pre- mature start, left her in sixth position.
“My medal chances were look- ing slim but the Princess was visiting and my Olympic manager asked my coach whether I’d want to have dinner with her. “They thought it’d be a good distraction for me, rather than turning things over in my head all night. She asked me how it was going and, although she’s a Princess, she brought me back down to earth. She made me realise I was in a special situation, I should enjoy it and I had a chance to medal. It was an awesome team de- cision from my manager and coach. They knew me well enough that it would help me and from that day on I didn’t trip up at all. It was quite a turning point.”
What about her prospects on home soil in just over two years’ time? “I’m ranked number one in the world, and I’ve medalled at three World Cup events so far this year. Hopefully the home advantage will play in my favour.”
As she pondered glory and all that it entails, the wind picked up and we wandered over to the sim-ulator, a board on a low metal tripod, for a demonstration. Wetsuit donned, and our photographer happy with the series of degrading photos of me in said garment, we dived into the water for a lesson. Struggling to balance and catch the wind, my confidence gradually grew and before long I was surfing to the opposite side of the reservoir.
“You’re very good, that’s a tippy board you’ve got. We normally start people up on more stable ones,” shouted Bryony from the motorboat. But it wasn’t easy – the series of movements needed to haul yourself up on to the board is instantly forgettable when you’re getting tired. And as soon as I tried turning the board around I’d plunge headfirst back into the water.
The 45-minute lesson left me with a clutch of aching muscles I never knew I had and a new found respect for the professional wind- surfers who dedicate their lives to the gruelling sport.
Back on dry land, I asked what the future held, beyond competing for her country.
“2012 is the main goal. Depending on how I perform there, then I could definitely do Brazil 2016 as well. After that, who knows?" she replied. “There are whispers of me being involved in sport TV presenting, which I would love to do, and potentially I’d like to be a mother and do that sort of thing. But I’d still want to be involved in sport. I’ll always want to be involved in sport."