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Clark prepares for Olympic sailing swansong

 

British Olympian Penny Clark marks the ‘end of an era’ as she takes to the water for the last time in Olympic classes competition at this week’s Sail for Gold Regatta in Weymouth and Portland.

Clark, who raced for Great Britain in the Laser Radial class at the Beijing Olympics, has decided to hang up her sailing boots following this week’s event at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic venue where she will compete in the 49erFX – a new event for the Rio Games – with youth sailor Steph Orton.

The 38-year-old, a former world number one in the 470 class, missed out on qualification in the 470 to the 2012 Games at the hands of eventual silver medallists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, but was tempted by one more shot at Olympic gold when the 49erFX was brought in for 2016.

“At the end of the last campaign I was a bit torn whether I was going to carry on or not and it was purely the lure of a women’s skiff that kept me hanging on,” the ex-Royal Navy engineer explained.

“The excitement of it is something I’ve always wanted to sail. Whilst, if I was honest with myself, I was probably done with Olympic campaigning, I just couldn’t let the opportunity go.”

Clark has been sailing as part of the British Sailing Team’s four-boat squad in the new class, where the helms and crews have been rotating between events before deciding on the best-fit combinations after the Sail for Gold Regatta.

Although Clark admits she’s had a fantastic experience sailing in the new class, claiming top ten results at the three 49erFX events she’s done, she feels the time is right for her to call time on her competitive career.

“I’ve had great fun sailing with all the girls. We’ve been rotating round and sailing with a different crew at each event, which has been a fantastic experience, but ultimately with the new class it’s all about hours in the boat and that means a lot of time away from home.

“I’ve just decided at this point in life I’ve got other priorities and it’s time to consider my husband, my family and friends who I haven’t seen for the last six years and give them some of my time,” she explained.

“It was a really tough decision but as much as it can be a right or wrong decision, I think it’s the right one.”

“There will be times I’m sure this week and in the future where I wonder whether I’ve made the right decision, but in my heart of hearts I know it’s the right one.”

Clark cites a number of highlights from her Olympic career over the years: “I enjoyed the freedom of the Radial and the fact that there was only me to blame – if I didn’t win it was down to me!” she laughs.

“You could run the campaign exactly how you wanted without having to consider anybody else. But I think I got better results in the 470 – myself and Katrina Hughes [now Katrina Best]. I think we, at times, showed fantastic ability, great pace and huge potential.

“It didn’t quite work out for us, and Hannah and Sas went on to win the silver medal at the Games – truly deserved – and I just think unfortunately in Great Britain there are too many good people at the top!

“I definitely think I’ll look back and remember some of those times – being world number one in the 470 was definitely a great achievement and something I’ll always carry with me.”

Post-retirement, Clark hopes to ‘give something back’ to the RYA’s British Sailing Team, and is looking to move into a coaching role in the future, using her campaign experience to help younger sailors make the transition into the world of Olympic classes sailing.

This week, though, she’s looking forward to one final fling in the 49erFX on her home waters at Weymouth and Portland with her 17-year-old crew Steph Orton, a three-time Youth National Champion in the 29er class from Chichester.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic in two ways – to do a regatta with someone so young and so enthusiastic, and for me, the ‘old dog’ going out, being able to pass on and hand over the mantle to the younger generation. That’s not just Steph, that’s the whole of the FX squad that I’ve been working with over the last few months.”

You can read our full interview with Penny here
 

 

8/6/2013 17:35

 

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