On the crest of a wave

Sarah Ayton with John Clelland.
Sarah Ayton with John Clelland.

A DOUBLE Olympic gold winning sailor has encouraged Borderers to take up the sport, even if they live miles from the sea.

Sarah Ayton visited St Mary’s School in Melrose and Clelands in Galashiels last week to discuss her Olympic experiences as excitement for the London Games grows ahead of the July 29 opening day.

The 32-year-old won her medals in the Yngling class at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, but chose to retire last year as the pressures of being a new mother and training to become the first British woman to take three consecutive golds became too much.

However, her love for sailing remains and she believes not living on the coast should not stop someone taking up the sport, as a recreational activity, or at a competitive level.

Ayton told TheSouthern: “I grew up near Heathrow Airport which is not near the sea, but I went to my local reservoir.

“It is worth finding out where your local patch of water is and having a go. Sailing is a sport you can start really young and you get such a lot of freedom as a child. You are the captain of your ship.

“It is a really physically demanding sport and is good for your health and you make great friends when you start competing across the country or the world. It is a very competitive sport, or if you just want to have fun at the weekend it is a great way to do that also.”

Sixteen months since announcing her retirement, Ayton admits she has mulled over her decision as she watched former colleagues prepare for the Olympics, as well as husband Nick Dempsey who is part of the GB windsurfing team.

She told us: “Its not jealousy, maybe a slight bit of regret. Sailing is what I have done for 15 or 20 years.

“But there is also excitement for a home Games, particularly as we live in Weymouth where the sailing will be based.”

Recalling her Olympic triumphs, Ayton added: “At Athens I was at the front of the boat with Shirley Robertson and I was only 24. It was a really exciting time. I had no experience and didn’t know what to expect.

“I moved to the back of the boat for the Beijing Games and there was more a feeling of relief rather than excitement (at winning gold).

“But both were extremely proud moments.”