New crews, new faces and a potential future Olympian for 2040 are among the British Sailing Team updates as the squad to kick-start the new Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle is unveiled. For the first time since 1998 and 2001 respectively, multi-Olympic medallists Nick Dempsey and Saskia Clark will not form part of the RYA’s World Class Programme line-up, with both sailors having called time on Olympic campaigning following their silver and gold medal successes at the Rio 2016 Games.
Hannah Mills, Clark’s gold-medal winning helm in the 470 class, is currently trying her hand in a new event, the 49erFX women’s skiff. She’s been training with experienced 49er campaigner and 2016 Olympian Alain Sign in the high performance boat as she gets up to speed, with a view to forming a more permanent partnership in the all-female Olympic class later this year.
“I’ve been sailing in the 470 class for 10 years now. It’s an amazing boat, but I’m also really excited to try something new. It’s the right time for me to do that, and it’s good to keep things fresh,” Mills explained.
“The FX is certainly a different challenge – a lot to handle and a lot faster – but I’m really enjoying it so far.”
Elsewhere in the 49erFX class, Rio Olympians Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth have each formed new partnerships, with Dobson teaming up with Saskia Tidey, who represented Ireland at the 2016 Games but who has since gained eligibility from World Sailing to compete for Great Britain.
Ainsworth has formed a new FX team with London 2012 match racing Olympian Kate Macgregor, who’s been competing in the class with various crews since the 2012 Games.
Ainsworth said: “Rio 2016 taught me a lot about myself personally as an athlete, and what I believe it takes to win. To have the opportunity to put this into practice with Kate is exciting and I can’t wait to get started.”
Meanwhile, three-time Olympic windsurfer Bryony Shaw is to take a break for at least the first half of the year as the 33-year-old and her partner, US sailor Brad Funk, are expecting their first baby in early June.
The Beijing bronze medallist, who’s secured podium finishes at three of the last four RS:X World Championships, is eyeing a comeback towards the end of 2017, with her intention still to campaign towards the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“Brad and I are so excited to be expecting our first baby!” Shaw explained. “We’re all doing really well and the timing is perfect in that it will hopefully allow me a great run-in to Tokyo.
“Obviously there will be a lot to get to grips with once the baby arrives, but I have great support and I believe I still have what it takes to compete at the highest level. There’s a fantastic team at the British Sailing Team who can help keep me in shape and get me back up to fitness when the time is right.
“Countless other mums pursue successful careers, including in sport, and I’m really looking forward to that challenge.”
World Champions Nick Thompson and Alison Young will aim to pick up where they left off in their Laser and Laser Radial events. Olympic Champion Giles Scott is taking a sabbatical from Finn campaigning as he focusses on the America’s Cup this year, while 2016 Olympian Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell, 2012 silver medallist in the 470 class, have joined forces in the 49er.
Fletcher won World Championship bronze with Alain Sign in 2016, and Bithell secured podium finishes at the last two 49er European Championships alongside John Pink.
Fletcher said: “Rio was awesome, but for me the journey did not end there. It was such an extraordinary experience but also bitterly disappointing to miss out on a medal.
“I am lucky enough to have teamed up with London 2012 silver medallist Stuart Bithell for this next cycle. Stu brings lot of different experience into the boat and I am looking forward to the road ahead with such an amazing talent.”
“Our athletes have really hit the ground running in 2017,” observed RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park. “We’ve just concluded our first winter training camp in Cadiz and a number of sailors are about to compete at their first Sailing World Cup regatta of the year out in Miami.
“The first year of the Olympic cycle is always an exciting one with new teams looking to establish themselves and some of the younger talents who’ve been knocking at the door aiming to show their own intentions towards the next Games. It’ll be fascinating to see what unfolds.”
British Sailing Team as of January 2017:
Olympic Classes Podium squad
Finn – Ed Wright
Laser – Nick Thompson
Laser Radial – Alison Young
RS:X Men – Kieran Martin
RS:X Women – Bryony Shaw
470 Women – Hannah Mills; Sophie Weguelin-Eilidh McIntyre
470 Men – Luke Patience-Chris Grube; Elliot Willis
49er – Dylan Fletcher-Stuart Bithell; Alain Sign; John Pink
49erFX – Charlotte Dobson-(Saskia Tidey); Sophie Ainsworth-(Kate Macgregor)
Nacra 17 – Ben Saxton-Nicola Groves
Olympic Classes Podium Potential squad
Finn – Ben Cornish; Pete McCoy; Henry Wetherell
Laser – Lorenzo Chiavarini; Elliot Hanson; Jack Wetherell; Michael Beckett
Laser Radial – Georgina Povall
RS:X Men – Tom Squires; Joe Bennett
RS:X Women – Izzy Hamilton; Emma Wilson
470 Women – Amy Seabright-Anna Carpenter; Jess Lavery-Flora Stewart
470 Men – Martin Wrigley-James Taylor
49er – James Peters-Fynn Sterritt
49erFX – Saskia Tidey-(Charlotte Dobson); Kate Macgregor-(Sophie Ainsworth)
Nacra 17 – Tom Phipps-Nikki Boniface; John Gimson-Anna Burnet; Rupert White-Kirstie Urwin
Olympic Classes Podium Potential Pathway squad
Finn – Hector Simpson
Laser - Harry Blowers; Jack Cookson; Jamie Calder; Sam Whaley; Matthew Whitfield; Dan Whiteley
Laser Radial – Ellie Cumpsty; Clementine Thompson
RS:X Men – Matt Carey; James Hatcher; Henry Bloodworth; Dan Wilson; Matt Barton; Rob York
RS:X Women – Noelle Finch; Saskia Sills; Imogen Sills
470 Men – Ben Hazeldine-Ryan Orr
470 Women – Sarah Norbury-Katie Dabson
49er – Chris Taylor-Sam Batten; Jack Hawkins-Chris Thomas; Daniel Budden-James Grummett; Morgan Peach-Rhos Hawes; Gillies Munro-Daniel Harris
49erFX – Megan Brickwood-Ellie Aldridge; Steph Orton
All sailor places within the British Sailing Team are subject to ongoing review, a satisfactory performance plan and attainment to specified targets.
With sailing not currently on the Paralympic programme for Tokyo 2020, the sport’s elite Paralympic funding award will cease from April 2017.