Interview with Etienne Stott: From London 2012 hero to climate crisis activist


several times Etienne Stott was arrested. He has two convictions to his credit. Any other wrongdoing in the eyes of the law and he knows jail time is a distinct possibility.

And yet he still won’t stop; the cause for which he fights too hard and far beyond his previous world of paddling for his life on a canoe slalom course in the quest for Olympic gold.

Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of the start of London 2012. To mark it, he will open his laptop and start a call to the west coast of Canada. At the other end of the screen will be the man with whom Stott won the third of Britain’s 29 Olympic gold medals and his best friend, Tim Baillie.

The canoe slalom duo will speak of happier times, for them a career high and for the City of London and the nation at large in a state of rapture at the Games.

It paved the way for three encounters with the Queen, hanging out backstage with the Stone Roses, and Mo Farah being the couple’s star banged in a lift in the Olympic Village.

A decade later, their lives have changed irrevocably, Baillie a web developer and father of three, Stott with an infinitely bigger fight to save the planet with Extinction Rebellion.

He is still under investigation for an incident in April this year when he climbed atop a Shell tanker calling for an end to fossil fuels, and the protests are not about to end. to end.

“Both convictions were basically for sitting on the road, that’s the tactic that gets me in trouble,” he says. “The cost of inaction is much worse. We try to avoid the collapse of everything. I’m not just going to sit and watch this unfold on TV.

As Britain experienced record temperatures above 40C for the first time early last week, Stott was protesting in his hometown of Nottingham.

“It’s impossible to imagine how bad this is going to be,” he said. “We had a little preview on Monday and Tuesday. We live in a more temperate region, so these effects were less strong.

British Olympians Laura Baldwin and Etienne Stott outside ExxonMobil’s Fawley Oil Terminal in Hampshire, calling for an end to the use of fossil fuels and a halt to plans to expand the site (Extinction Rebellion/PA)

/ PA Media

“For me it was a very strong call to action and a justification to redouble our efforts. This is the future, we have to fight for every fraction of a degree. We need something very different happens, or the most horrible things will happen to us. We need to make big changes. Another world is possible. It has to be because the world we are heading towards is too horrible.

Stott wasn’t always an environmental activist, but he’s been an avid outdoorsman for as long as he can remember, from learning to canoe with the Boy Scouts to that career pinnacle a decade ago.

In retirement, which followed the Rio Olympics, he planned to lecture at school and coach up-and-coming athletes before his head turned.

“I quickly realized that we were in big trouble and that the future of the people I work with does not exist as we imagine it at this point,” he recalls. “It made no sense to keep doing this job. Sport gives you a platform. I’m no Cristiano Ronaldo, mine is only a three out of 10 – a modest platform – but it still has some gravity. I believe that if you have power and influence, you should use it responsibly. Thus, nonviolence and disobedience seemed the most sensible option.

There are times when he feels sad for what he calls “the life I could have had” as a coach, visiting schools and spreading his love for paddling. But quickly, his taste for the fight against the climate crisis takes over.

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His platform is down to two runs on Lee Valley White Water Centre, which were in danger of going off the rails when he dislocated his shoulder the previous year. Winning gold on reflection was akin to “living in a movie of your life”.

All sorts of interviews followed, a party that night and a first appearance on the BBC at 6.30am, and a myriad of surreal experiences from then on.

“We moved into the Olympic Village, we pressed the elevator button, the doors rang and Mo Farah was just standing there,” he says. “He was like, ‘Hey guys, okay, and knew who we were. He was thrilled for us and we were like, ‘Mo Farah knows us!”

Behind the scenes with the Stone Roses, the open-top bus traveled through London in front of 1.2 million people and a first visit to the Queen to receive MBEs ensued, a moment he calls a ‘whirlwind’.

It’s the gold that has allowed him to be more vocal in his current fight, one he doesn’t plan on backing down from.

“It’s a bit like walking past someone on the street having a heart attack,” he says. “I may not know what is the best thing to do, but I would get involved. If people are standing there, I urge them to help me. This is the same situation I find myself in now. It’s a little scary but, like in sports, that uncertainty will always be there and you have to choose a course of action and commit to it.

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