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Sarah Ayton praises West Mersea sailor Saskia Clark

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Saskia and Sarah sail at Weymouth

By Oliver Rogers
BBC Essex

Double Olympic gold medal winner Sarah Ayton has praised her new sailing partner Saskia Clark from West Mersea.

The pair finished 14th overall in the 470 class at the Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth at the weekend.

Sarah announced she was entering the category with Clark in April - a switch from yngling, the class in which she won her Olympic gold medals.

Ayton told BBC Essex: "Saskia has a lot of experience in the boat, which is great for me being new in the class."

The 30-year-old won her first gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and was part of the crew dubbed 'three blondes in a boat' with Shirley Robertson and Sarah Webb.

She went on to win another gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, again in the yngling class.

Clark also competed at Beijing, finishing sixth in the 470 class with Christina Bassadone.

In their first interview with the BBC since the pair got on the water together, Clark, 31, was confident of success with her new team-mate.

Saskia Clark (L) and Sarah Ayton in Weymouth
Clark (left) and Ayton have been sailing together since April

"The switch [for Ayton] to 470 is obviously massive, and that has been the focus of our first three months," she said.

"Sarah really learned quickly, never making the same mistake twice. As soon as we started racing, we were doing all right, and managing to get some results towards the top end of the fleet," she added.

The yngling class has been dropped from the London 2012 Olympics, but Ayton, 30, is targeting a third gold in her new discipline.

"I guess the yngling is a bit like a tank - it's a very heavy, slow boat, while the 470 class is a bit like a Ferrari, very lightweight, really quick," she said.

"So, the speed differences across a course are really quick - things happen at a faster rate."

The duo claimed gold at the Kiel regatta in Germany in June, part of the World Cup series.

Saskia Clark
Clark learned to sail off the Essex coast around Mersea Island

"We've had a great seven months really, we won the Kiel regatta and came fifth at the Worlds, which is an amazing achievement for a team that's only been together for six or seven months," added Ayton.

The final round of the ISAF World Cup Series at Weymouth proved to be a little tougher, however.

"We seemed to be popping in one good and then one bad [performance] all week and we need to work on making our average performances good," said Clark.

Weymouth will be the venue for the sailing competition at the London 2012 Olympics and the Sail for Gold regatta is the penultimate international event to be held at the venue, before the start of the games.

By then Clark and Ayton will be looking to make their mark as the 'two blondes in a boat' at the London games.

"Well, we hope so," said Ayton.



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