Article » Sailing for gold: Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls

As our top sailors battle it out in the waters off Dorset, pitting themselves against the elements and the best in the world, we take a look at the athletes who we’ll be holding our breath for during these Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The venues are also world class, with racing taking place in some of the best natural sailing locations in the UK – the stunning waters off Weymouth and Portland.

They may be quiet achievers, but Britain boasts some exceptional sailing talent and we take a look at our brightest stars and best medal hopes for the 2012 Games.

Sailing for gold  Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls

Ben Ainslie – Men’s Finn
If you know anything about competitive sailing then you’ll most certainly have heard of Ben Ainslie. And for those of you who haven’t (where have you been?) I’ll help you out. Ben Ainslie is (deep breath) a three time Olympic Champion, a 10 time World Champion and a nine time European Champion. He has been ranked number one at different times in his career in three different sailing classes and is preparing to compete in his fifth Olympic Games. He’s also been awarded the prestigious title of British Yachtsman of the Year four times.

Ben Ainslie was born on 5 February 1977 and started sailing at the age of eight near Falmouth in Cornwall. By the age of 10 he was already competing and entered his first ever international competition in 1989. Ainslie took part in his first Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta where he won the silver medal in the Laser class. And from there onwards it has been gold ever since. Ainslie won the gold medal in the Laser at the following Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and he also went on to win gold at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 in the Finn class.

He is currently ranked 18th in the Finn class, so he is by no means the favourite at the London 2012 Games. However, we have faith in his ability and hope that the home advantage will pull him through, adding another gold medal to his existing haul.

Sailing for gold  Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls

Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell – SKUD 18
Alexandra Rickman was born 11 September 1981 and is one of our Paralympic hopefuls. She became disabled after a diving accident in 1995 and first sailed on a day out during her rehabilitation period in Miami. However, she didn’t start taking the sport seriously until she began studying at Imperial College, London, 10 years later.

Alexandra Rickham’s SKUD 18 partner, Niki Birrell, was born 16 August 1986 with Cerebral Palsy. He began sailing at the age of nine and in 2007 he teamed up with Rickham. And the pair haven’t looked back since.

They competed at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in the SKUD 18 two person keelboat class and they achieved an impressive fifth place.

The team have had plenty of other successes in the past winning gold medals at number of previous events including the 2012 Scandia Sail for Gold, 2012 IFDS Worlds, 2010 IFDS Worlds and many others.

London 2012 will be the pair’s second Paralympics together and they will be looking to win the coveted gold medal.

Sailing for gold: Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark – Women’s 470
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark will be representing Great Britain in the Women’s 470 sailing class. They are fresh off the back of a gold medal at the 2012 470 World Championships in Barcelona and will be looking to claim the gold at the coming Games. Saskia achieved a sixth place finish at the 2008 Games in Beijing, however, London 2012 will be Hannah’s first time competing at an Olympic Games.

Hannah Mills was born in Cardiff, Wales, but she now lives in Portland and Clark, who was born in Colchester, Essex, currently lives in Weymouth. This means that they are another pair of British sailors who will have the huge advantage of having the Olympic Sailing Competition right outside their front door.

This pairing are relatively new, however they are showing a lot of promise. Despite suffering a black flag in the very first race of the 2012 470 World Championships in Barcelona, Hannah and Saskia claimed the gold and they will most certainly be looking to carry that momentum into the Olympics.

Nick Dempsey – Men’s RS:X
Another sailor to keep on your radar is Olympic hopeful Nick Dempsey who is competing in the Men’s RS:X, which, for the uninitiated is windsurfing.

Nick was born in 1980 and has a huge advantage over his opposition as he actually lives in Weymouth.

Dempsey is preparing for his fourth Olympic Games, and he is looking for his first gold medal.

His first taste of Olympic competition was in the 2000 Games in Sydney, when he came 16th in the Men’s Mistral.

He then went on to win bronze in the Men’s Mistral at the 2004 Athens Games and at the 2008 Beijing Olympics he competed in the Men’s RS:X and came fourth.


Sailing for gold  Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls

Bryony Shaw – Women’s RS:X
And last but most certainly not least on our list of British Olympic sailors to watch is Bryony Shaw. After winning the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics she will be hoping that this time she can grab herself and Team GB a gold medal.

Shaw was born in Wandsworth, London on 28 April 1983, and she now lives in Tunbridge Wells. Bryony is the UK’s top ranked windsurfer and she is lying in a close second place in the world standings. She is also the first Brit to win a bronze medal in windsurfing at an Olympic Games and hopefully, this year, she will be the first Brit to take home the gold!

From all here at Practical Boating, we wish all our Olympic and Paralympic athletes the very best of luck these Games.

By Adam Rowden

Ben Ainslie  – © Mark Lloyd
Alex Rickham and Niki Birrell – Richard Langdon / Skandia Team GBR
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark – Richard Langdon / Skandia Team GBR
Nick Dempsey Windsurfing 3 © Copyright Skandia Team GBR
Bryony Shaw – © Matthew Dickens / Skandia Team GBR