Saskia Clark insists her Olympic dream is as bright as ever, as she embarks on a new partnership in her quest for 2012 sailing gold.
The 31-year old West Mersea sailor has seen a tough start to 2011 as her teammate in the 470 class, two-time Olympic Champion Sarah Ayton, last week called time on her sailing career and her bid for a third consecutive Olympic gold, in order to spend time with her young son.
But instead of being left high and dry in this all-important Olympic qualifying year, the Beijing Olympian Clark wasted no time in assessing her options for a new helm to join her in her bid for 2012 selection, and has picked 22-year-old Hannah Mills – a former 470 World Junior Champion for Skandia Team GBR – as her new partner.
'As soon as Sarah told me of her decision I think I was even more determined to be there on the start line in 2012 and try and achieve what’s been a childhood dream,' Clark explained.
'There was no time to waste really, so I spent a lot of time talking to people whose opinions I respect, gathering all the bits of information I could, thinking about where my strengths and weakness lay and where the strengths and weakness were of other 470 helms and I decided that Hannah Mills was definitely the person I wanted to go forward with.
'I think our skill sets complement each other quite well. Hannah’s been in the 470 for a few years so she hasn’t got to learn to sail the boat, she’s already one of the fastest helms in certain conditions so we can straight away bang on with the racing and communication side of things and not have to spend time polishing up on sailing a 470 fast.'
Clark continued: 'I remember when Hannah started sailing a 470 – she’s obviously a huge talent.
'She’s had a difficult few years trying to find a crew that complements her, but even through that time she’s been 100 percent dedicated to wanting to achieve a gold medal for Team GB, and that was the factor for me that I was really looking for. We’ve had our first few days out in Palma and so far so good!'
With the RYA’s selectors starting to turn their thoughts towards their Games team choices during 2011, Clark and Mills will have an intense period during which to gel and fine-tune their partnership, but it’s a challenge which Clark is excited about.
'I definitely wouldn’t have carried on if I didn’t think we could do it,' said a determined Clark. 'We’ve got a lot to do, there’s no denying that. I felt anyway, but now I feel even more having done a few days sailing with Hannah, that we’ve got a lot of potential as a team. We’re hitting the ground running, and we’re both mad for it so watch this space!
'2012 is definitely still burning brightly. Beijing was an amazing experience but not many athletes get the chance to be at a home Games, so as long as Hannah and I have got that chance then we’ll get our heads down and do the hard work.'
For Mills, who hails from Cardiff, the new partnership with Clark signals a boost to her own 2012 ambitions.
'I was pretty excited [to get the call from Saskia. For me it was a great opportunity to sail with someone who’d sailed the 470 for a very long time and could sail the boat really well, which is definitely something I’ve been looking for.
'2012 was always on my horizon, even it if was maybe a bit of a long way away. Now sailing with Saskia it’s definitely that step closer – we’re both revved up and fully up for it and we’ll both do everything we can to make a possible become a probable.
'So far it’s all going really well, we seem to complement each other pretty well on the water and we both have good input for the other one, so we’re learning all the time and getting better pretty quickly so we’re excited!
'We’ve definitely got a lot to cram in, but with both our experiences and the drive that we have – especially coming into it late, it’s a good thing in a way as we definitely won’t get stale and we’ll be up for it 100 percent of the way.'
The pair, who will be backed in their campaign by Volvo Car UK, will face their first major regatta test at the next leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup Series, the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma, Majorca, from 3-8 April. RYA Skandia Team GBR