AT SOME point over the next few months, Olympic champions Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott will be in a position to get back into a canoe again. But shortly before they get to that point, they will have to decide whether they want to resume their partnership, or agree that it is time to call it a day.
Under normal circumstances, the two would have made their decision by now, but injury to Stott meant an early end to their season – and has become a complicating factor as they deliberate their future.
Both Baillie, from Westhill in Aberdeenshire, and Stott, from Manchester, are 34. After winning the C2 event at London 2012 they agreed to compete for another season and then take stock, but no sooner had they hit top form in this post-Olympic year than Stott’s shoulder was dislocated.
“The Olympics were the eighth season Etienne and I had competed together,” Baillie explained yesterday. “We agreed then that we would carry on for a ninth year, and then decide after that what we were going to do.
“There’s no pressure on us to commit for a whole Olympic cycle of four years as there is in some other sports. I think that’s sensible – people might say yes to another four years then simply change their mind later on. So with us it’s just year by year.
“I guess we were planning to do the World Championships” – which took place in Germany and ended at the weekend – “and then decide. Now it’s a bit different, because half a season makes you think you’ve got unfinished business and leaves you wanting more.”
With some months of recuperation still to go before Stott can race again, Baillie, although having maintained a high basic level of fitness, has not kept up as rigorous and sport-specific schedule as he normally would. Although there is no red-letter day marked on his calendar to mark a deadline for a decision, it will be around the time that Stott is ready to compete that the two will have to thrash things out.
That feeling of unfinished business may drive them to return, but they are aware that it will not necessarily last for the long term, and that the frustration of being ruled out of action could fade. Then again, having worked so hard to claim that gold medal in London, they know they might regret quitting at the height of their powers.
“From time to time you hear some athletes talking about how well they deal with extreme pressure, and that seems to be the secret of their success,” Baillie continued. “Over the time of our partnership we hadn’t been that good under pressure, and then at the Olympics we were able to deal with it.”
After such a high, many competitors experience a dip in form, and at first this year Baillie thought that he and Stott might be just another example. But that soon changed.
“We got off to a bit of a false start this season in Krakow – we had an absolute stinker and we were really down afterwards. I felt then that we were looking down the barrel of a gun at a long and difficult season, but things picked up after that.
“The next World Cup event in Cardiff was awesome, we won qualifying, and then we were fourth in the final. Then in Germany we came second, and were leading the overall World Cup rankings. And it was the event after that that Etienne’s shoulder was dislocated. I feel very grateful that we got to do those races before that injury, because it proved that our Olympic success was not a total one-off.”
That success has meant Baillie and Stott have been in pretty much constant demand over the last year, restricting the Scot’s opportunities to get home to see his family. But he was back in Aberdeenshire last week, to take part in a Join In session with the members of Aboyne Canoe Club.
In partnership with the Bank of Scotland, Join In has been running throughout the summer, encouraging people throughout the country to take part in sport at their local clubs.
In Baillie’s case this meant taking part in the club’s weekly paddle, and conducting a question-and-answer session. The first of those has long been second nature to him, but he admitted that being the focus of attention – especially as someone being held up as a good example – was not something that he immediately took to in the aftermath of London 2012.
“I’m not naturally someone to stand in front of groups of kids saying something inspirational. But I realised quite quickly after the Olympics the privilege and responsibility you have. There is a chance that the young people listening to you will pay attention and remember some of the things you said, and hopefully that will encourage more of them either to stay in the sport or actually take it up for the first time.”
Whether his visit to Aboyne encourages Baillie to stay in the sport for a little longer remains to be seen.