24 July 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Setting sail for Olympic history

August 9, 2010

Sportsister caught up with Olympic sailors Sarah Ayton and Saskia Clark at the National Sailing Academy at Weymouth for the Volvo Musto Optimist British National and Open Championship. Sarah-SaskiaThe new duo to be reckoned with on the water were in town to inspire young people to take up sailing and discussed their hopes for the 2012 Olympics, where Ayton aims to make history by becoming the first British woman to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals.

Sarah Ayton and Saskia Clark carry many years of sailing experience and trips to Olympic Games with them, but in many ways they are just getting their feet wet. The two have only been working together as a team since January after Ayton was forced to find a new class to compete in during the Olympics when the Yngling, in which she has won gold in the past two Olympics, was dropped.

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“Saskia and I are a new team,” Ayton says. “For me, I’ve only been in the boat for seven months. My Yngling team was really enjoyable and it was a great time, but three is a hard number and you really have to work at keeping it going, so somehow it is slightly easier with the two of you. For me, I’m really enjoying the new challenge.”

Clark says that it’s their separate past experiences coming together that have made the transition easier. “We both come from different teams and we both had many years of Olympic experience, so it’s been great talking about how we want to run the campaign and how we communicate in the boat. We’re fast tracking a lot of the details but I think what the end result will be a really good, strong, experienced team.”

Sarah-Saskia-2

She adds that working with Ayton is a bit like going to work alongside your hero. “Sarah is a bit of a legend of our sport and looking up to her and her processes of doing things is amazing.” But even legends have a lot to learn. Ayton is used to working in a three woman boat, and along with Sarah Webb and Peppa Wilson, the team was jokingly dubbed “three blondes in a boat.”

This is where Clark’s expertise in the 470 steps in. She competed in Beijing in that class and finished sixth. “Saskia’s knowledge of the boat and the way she moves around the boat is absolutely awesome,” says Ayton. “I come from more of a big slow keelboat, so it’s more about attention to detail. We’re really learning off each other and it’s a real upbeat environment at the moment which is nice.”

Quick success

The two certainly are on the right track, if the past few weeks are any indication. They finished fifth in the 470 World Championships recently and then went on to win the last ISAF Sailing World Cup event in Kiel.

“It was really great to get a big win together. It was nice to be leading races and get a feel for what that’s like in the boat together,” says Ayton. “The last few events we have really exceeded our expectations of where we are at so we are really happy with our performance at the moment. We have to be really grounded that we’re only six and a half months in, and we still have got a lot to learn. We shouldn’t get carried away with the unexpected results. It doesn’t mean the work stops. It’s really the opposite.”

Next up for the duo is the Skandia Sail for Gold being held in Weymouth in August. This year is going to be the event’s largest due to the fact that the Olympics are in being held at the same place. Many athletes are hoping to get an early practice at the venue.

Weymouth is already rather familiar to Saskia, who grew up in the area. She remembers fondly her early sailing adventures on the Dorset shores as a kid. “Where I grew up is a really cool sailing place. There’s lots of creeks to muck about in and we would get our picnics and barbecues on an island there. Also there’s a bit of open sea for good sailing. You’ve got flatwater in the harbour and out in Weymouth Bay if you get a big wind day you get some awesome waves to play around in.”

But it will be much more work than play for Ayton and Clark next month at Weymouth. Sail for Gold is their next major test and a strong finish would mean they are inching closer to qualifying for the London games in 2012. Ayton feels optimistic. “We’re well on track and really making sure that when we’re on the start line for the trials we’re ready to win and make sure that we actually get to 2012. We’ve got a really big two years ahead of us. It’s a good challenge, but we like a good challenge.”

Caitlin Ritchie, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Image credits: Mike Cooper (top), Thom Touw (bottom)

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Sailing: Sailors make best of tough conditions at Weymouth - Sportsister - The Women's Sports Magazine | Sportsister

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