Essex Olympian - Saskia Clark

Sailing success has been a feature of Team GB at recent Olympics and West Mersea's Saskia Clark aims to add to that golden reputation at London 2012<br/>Words by Nick Dines

Ruling the Waves

Remarkably fresh-faced, despite the weathering elements her training demands throughout the year, Saskia Clark enjoys a love affair with the sport of sailing. And although sailing in international competitions may mean foreign jaunts across the globe, for the tanned 32-year-old, this love for the open water began in the tranquil setting of West Mersea.

‘Sailing was something we always did together as a family,’ Saskia explains. ‘My sister was clearly the confident one, rowing around and sailing in her little boat. With her, I was fine, but I hated sailing on my own. I was the shy one.’Despite this initial apprehension and the fond memories of mucking about at the Mersea Island oyster packing shed, popular events such as Royal Harwich Junior Week, proved the catalyst for a growing interest in competitive sailing. Hazy summer evenings on the water as an eight year old at the West Mersea Yacht Club helped hone the determined, gritty sailor we now see today.

‘Once I developed the sailing bug, I loved the adventure and the competition. Often the only girl in the group, I thrived off the constant battle to prove I was as good as, or better than, the boys.’

Now residing at the very heart of British sailing in Weymouth, minutes from the National Sailing Academy, Colchester-born Saskia has emerged as a startling all-rounder with capability across several classes, from Laser to the 470 class she plies her trade in today. Often returning to compete in the West Mersea Town Regatta, Saskia is a staunch advocate of the region that nurtured her talent. ‘Sailing in Essex offers you everything,’ Saskia adds. ‘There’s the safety of the creeks to learn in and explore, offshore racing and also the tight racing on the estuary, where you can understand all the tides. Not many places have all those facets in one place.’

Despite making her international debut way back in 1992, the former Colchester County High School for Girls pupil witnessed many others head off to Olympic competition, yet remained determined not be cast adrift. Her Olympic drought ended in 2008, with a sixth place finish alongside Christina Bassadone in the 470 women’s class at the Beijing Olympics.

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Four years on, Clark will take to the sea this summer alongside her latest 470 teammate, Hannah Mills. Hannah, nine years Saskia’s junior, replaces previous partner and double Olympic champion, Sarah Ayton, who retired 18 months prior to London 2012.February marked the pair’s first anniversary and despite the fledgling partnership, form suggests a double-act in unison, which inevitably raises expectations. Currently riding the crest of the wave, having medalled at World Cup regattas and European Championships, the duo have also secured silver medals at both the Olympic test event last summer and at the ISAF World Championships in Perth back in December.

‘Competing at any Olympics is special, but a home games is going to be unbelievable. It’s possible that I’ll spontaneously combust with excitement this time round’

‘Considering where we were at the time, silver at the test event was a massive achievement and was probably a deciding factor for our selection for the 2012 games,’ Saskia admits, remaining cautious not to get swept up in the waves of hype.

‘I’ve always considered walking into Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium for the opening ceremony one of my most exciting career highlights, however I’m hugely proud of what Hannah and I put together last year, under huge pressures of time and resource.’

Endorsed by none other than triple gold medallist Ben Ainslie, Sas, as she’s known amongst friends, is yet another outstanding Olympic medal hopeful recognised by Essex County Council as a Team Essex Ambassador for 2012. The initiative, which provides a financial boost of �6,500 to those elite athletes with Essex connections, is certainly much appreciated by another of its grateful yet worthy recipients.

‘From the very beginning, the support from everyone back home has been fantastic,’ claims the 2007 Essex Sports Personality of the Year. ‘To be an elite competitor takes investment and the bursary funding has contributed hugely to the purchase of our Olympic boat.

In return, as ambassadors we are really trying to get everyone to feel like they are involved with the games on their doorstep. As competitors, hopefully we can bring personality and inspire people to not just watch London 2012, but maybe take up some of the sports and really enjoy what the Olympics is about.’

It’s clear her Olympic debut left an everlasting impression and the mere mention of this summer’s games generates evident delight. ‘Competing at any Olympics is special, but a home games is going to be unbelievable. It’s possible that I’ll spontaneously combust with excitement this time round. Sailing is a sport where the Olympics really is the pinnacle, so while it’s easy to get carried away prior to August, Hannah and I know we have to work hard, focus and deliver our best performance under the pressure of a home games.’While far from plain sailing, the pair stand a great chance of that exclusive feeling of possessing an Olympic gold medal, a treasured item Saskia canFind out moreSaskia Clark sails as part of Skandia Team GBR, the British sailing team in Olympic and Paralympic classes sponsored by investment specialist Skandia. For more information, visit www.skandiateamgbr.comEach month between now and the Olympic opening ceremony, Essex Life will bring you a detailed profile of an Essex athlete set to compete at London 2012, helping you to cheer on our local athletes

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