“I knew that I could be the best fifth crew member in the fleet” Sarah Ayton Olympic Gold Medallist

My name is Sarah Ayton. I’m probably most famous as one of the three blondes in a boat. Winning my first Olympic gold in Athens at the front of a boat called YngLing And then four years later at the back of the boat in Beijing. I come from a non sailing background. My parents don’t sail at all, my dad gets nervous around boats and my mum can’t swim. But they were really keen for my brother and I to have a hobby. So we literally tried loads of different sports and then at the age of 6, had a go at sailing just at our local reservoir, Queen Mary Sailing club. Had a go and absolutely loved it. Winning our first Olympic Gold in Athens was as you’d expect, an amazing experience. I was 24 at the time and was at the front of the boat. With Shirley Robertson and Sarah Webb in The Yngling. And the three blondes were born I suppose, in the media. It was a funny event in the sense that everything we did in those 2 years was geared towards the Olympic games. I think in my mind I thought winning the Gold would be the final race and that moment would’ve been different to what it was. Because as it was, we won the Olympic gold in 10 races in an 11 race series. So we crossed the finish line and looked at our coach and he was like ‘You’ve won’ and in my mind I had no idea that it was even possible to have won the Gold when we did. But when we crosses the line that moment was extremely special. Winning in Beijing was, again, a brilliant amazing experience. It was really important to us in Beijing that we dominated our fleet. After winning in Athens the Olympic gold was the only big event we won. And then for me, moving to the back of the boat, steering now, I wanted to do a lot more than that. I wanted to really dominate the fleet to win a World Championship because I’d never won a worlds before. So everything about this program was actually much more than about winning an Olympic Gold. That was a really special experience with the team. Myself, Pippa, Sarah and our coach Paul I think we put a campaign together that we’re all really proud of. In terms of, you know, we won two world championships, European championships. We were ranked number 1 in the world. And we went out to Beijing and delivered another solid performance, winning golds. Stood on the podium the second time as the helm, much more feeling of relief. Because ultimately you are the one steering the boat but also a sense of we put a great campaign together and I think showed actually its not just about a helm and a crew If you’re a really united team then you can achieve something exceptional. So really proud of that one. So I had a big transition after 2008. I seem to have this in my career where the boats are always taken out of the Olympics after an Olympic games So the Yngling was no longer. And then I actually had my two children, Thomas and Oscar. And motherhood is much harder that Olympic sailing, if I can say that. And then I had an opportunity to go Extreme 40 sailing. Wildly different, first of all its a Catamaran, short course racing stadium style, 11 races a day. And very male dominated so it was a massive change but an opportunity that I took hold of and loved the challenge. My first experience with extremes was in Singapore, it was a training camp before the season would start and rocked up and we went out and the boys would say ‘pull this, pull that’. I had no idea, just even trying to stand up on the trampoline was hard enough and then sending my down to load the winch. Just ahh. A really exhilarating,scary moment but the worst feeling was probably the morning after. Muscles I hadn’t used for years were really aching and then having to get back on the boat all over again but yeah, hugely exhilarating, fun. A real different experience. I think my biggest learning point there and I think its a good one, to really know your strengths as a sailor What you’re really good at and really back yourself. So when i stepped in that environment, that actually as a female sailor in a male dominated environment I knew i could still be the best 5th crew member in the extreme fleet. The scariest moment in the extremes was the thought of capsizing. Thankfully Leigh McMillan on the helm, he’s golden, a really safe skipped and the boat was always in control. There were some epic crashes. We had a couple of incidents where it got a bit hairy. But the most important thing Lee said to me was just to stay safe. If it looks like its going wrong then get out of the way. Especially in Singapore, our first event, we had a bit of a port starboard big crash. Thankfully I managed to get out the way. But yeah, its a real adrenaline junkie kind of sailing. I think mentally hard to deal with was a training camp in Malaga and Athens, actually. Those two stand out because it was snowing and freezing cold. And you’re dropped at the front at the side of the Yngling, its not a nice place to be.

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