It’s been a baptism of fire for Steve Bird in 2016, as the sprinter prepares to compete at his second Olympic Games.
The 28-year-old has very much found himself in unchartered waters, paddling alone in the 200 metre events without his close friend and teammate, Jesse Phillips, in the boat alongside him.
In London in 2012 the Perth-based pair finished sixth in the the K2 200 final, but the pair were unable to qualify for Rio.
Which means Bird will be paddling without Phillips for the first time in a long, long time.
“It does feel a little strange but our partnership is built on a solid friendship,” Bird said.
“We’ve shared many paddling experiences together and will continue to do so in some shape or form going forward.”
“Jesse is still involved in the process and I am hoping he will be in Rio to support me as my coach.”
Bird has been competing in the K1 200 events at World Cups throughout Europe. Pleasingly for the South African-born paddler, his results have been improving at every outing.
“There is a difference between mixing it with the best every now and then, compared with consistently mixing it with them,” he said.
“I feel I am improving a lot throughout this season. Internationally, the k1 200m has been somewhat of a crash course for me.”
“I’m highly motivated and inspired in training. At the same time, I’m relieved that this is the last block of training in what has been a long, four-year cycle.”
Since the World Cups Bird has based himself in a very soggy UK, building himself up for a big performance in Rio.
It’s also given him a chance to reflect on how he prepared for London, and how he might tweak the process this time around.
One thing is for certain. Bird is determined to make sure he has more of an ‘Olympic experience’ this time.
“I expect Rio to be very different,” he said.
“For starters, I am racing a different event in the K1 200m. This is a relatively new journey for me as I haven’t raced much in my K1 internationally.”
“The mindset in London was very much one of extreme focus. I was hypersensitive to things taking my mind off task. I confined myself to a pretty strict set of rules as I was fearful of deviating from the process so didn’t experience much outside of racing.”
“In Rio, we will be staying in a hotel in one of the suburbs adjacent to the racing lake. This will hopefully allow for a bit more flexibility and autonomy to take in the experience a bit more.”
2016 has been a fascinating year for Steve Bird. But in every way, the best is yet to come.