Saskia Clark to team up with Hannah Mills ahead of 2012
Clark to continue Olympic quest
By Nick Hope
BBC Olympic Sports Reporter
British Olympic sailing hopeful Saskia Clark has teamed up with Hannah Mills to continue her London 2012 bid after previous partner Sarah Ayton retired.
Double Olympic gold medallist Ayton quit the sport last week but Clark has filled the gap in her 470 boat with former World Youth champion Mills.
"I think our skills complement each other quite well," said Clark.
"She's 100% dedicated to achieving a gold medal and that was the factor I was really looking for."
Clark finished sixth in the 470 class at the Beijing Olympics alongside Christina Bassadone, but teamed up with Ayton in 2010.
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
Ayton won her two Olympic titles sailing a Yngling as part of the team dubbed "three blondes in a boat", which included Sarah Webb and Shirley Robertson in Athens in 2004, and Webb and Pippa Wilson in Beijing four years later.
However, the class was dropped from the Olympic schedule for 2012, and after some time away from the sport, during which Ayton became a mother, she returned last year in the 470 alongside Clark.
The pair had been making steady progress under the guidance of two-time Olympic silver medallist Joe Glanfield, winning the 2010 Isaf World Cup regatta in Kiel, Germany and finishing fifth in the Netherlands at their first World Championships together.
But Ayton found it tough to spend time away from her young son Thomas and Olympic windsurfing bronze medal-winning husband Nick Dempsey and decided to step away from the sport.
"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.
Ayton and Clark teamed up in 2010
With the 2012 Olympics just over 500 days away the West Mersea sailor said there was "no time to waste" in finding Ayton's successor and felt that 22-year-old Mills was the ideal partner.
"I gathered all the bits of information I could, thinking about where my strengths and weaknesses lay and where the strengths and weaknesses were of other 470 helms, and I decided that Hannah Mills was definitely the person I wanted to go forward with," said Clark.
"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 added: "She's had a difficult few years trying to find a crew that complements her, but she's been 100% dedicated to wanting to achieve a gold medal for Team GB and that was the factor I was really looking for."
For Mills, the new partnership with Clark signals a boost to her own 2012 ambitions.
"I was pretty excited to get the call from Saskia," she said. "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."
With the selectors starting to turn their thoughts towards the team for 2012, Clark and Mills will have an intense period during which to gel and fine-tune their partnership, but it is a challenge which Clark is excited about.
"I definitely wouldn't have carried on (towards the Olympics) 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, but having done a few days' sailing with Hannah, I feel that we've got a lot of potential as a team."
It is likely that the new 470 pairing will begin their campaign together in low-key domestic events from mid-March, with their first major event being the
Princess Sofia Trophy
(World Cup series event) in Palma, Spain, from 3-8 April.
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