Clark 'Sails for Gold' for the final time 

Penny Clark and Nicola Groves more features

Penny Clark, Great Britain’s Laser Radial representative at the Beijing Olympics and former world number one with Katrina Best in the 470 class, has decided to call time on her Olympic sailing career after this week’s Sail for Gold Regatta, where she’ll compete for the final time in the 49erFX class.

Here she gives the lowdown on her decision to retire, what lies ahead, and her highlights of Olympic campaigning with the British Sailing Team….    

Penny, this Sail for Gold Regatta is a special one for you, as it’s going to be your last event as an Olympic campaigner…
It’s the end of a bit of an era, but it’s nice to finish at a home regatta.  I was a bit undecided as to whether I was going to do this week or not start with, just because we’re a crew down in the FX.  We’ve got a young girl, Steph Orton from the 29ers, who’s stepped up to the mark.  She’s come on brilliantly.

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.

What made you decide that it was time to hang up your sailing boots?
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 excitement of it is something I’ve always wanted to sail.  A bit sad, but probably since I was about eight years old I’ve had pictures of skiffs on my bedroom walls – not any more though, my husband won’t let me!  Whilst, if I was honest with myself, I was probably done with Olympic campaigning, I just couldn’t let the opportunity go. 

I’ve had a fantastic winter, 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.  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.

Retiring must be a hard decision to make – did you feel relieved once you’d made that choice?
Through Hyeres and Holland Regatta I thought it was a really tough decision and I was really undecided, and it was making those events even harder than they should have been!  I came back, thought about it, saw Ben Chell, the team psychologist – who was absolutely brilliant – and then once the decision was made it was just about waiting to book in and see the team manager and tell him.  Once I’d done that it felt great. 

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.

So what’s next?
My parents have just moved house and have already booked me in to help paint and move in, and then some summer holiday with the husband. 

I’ve spent a lot of time with the team over the years, I’ve learnt a lot and feel like I’ve taken a lot out of the team and I believe it’s time to give some of that back.   So I’m really keen to get involved on the coaching side and in any way I can with the team to try and help people like Steph and the other younger members of the skiff squad come through and help them make the transition to full time Olympic campaigning as quickly and as smoothly as they can. 
So that’s the idea for the future, to hopefully get involved in the coaching programme and see where I can help there.

What are the highlights of your years of Olympic campaigning?
It’s a difficult one – 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!  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. 

I’m glad I did hang on long enough to sail the FX and have a go in that.  Although it hasn’t worked out as I’d have liked there are some great memories of jumping off from a high height and getting quite wet when things went wrong at quite high speed!

As you say goodbye to the 49erFX, what are the British prospects in this new class for 2016?
Really, really good.  We’ve got a great group of sailors, working really, really well together.  It’s easy to say that, but it’s absolutely true.  The squad is completely open – that’s been one of the advantages of rotating round that you can’t have secrets.  I think they really need to remember that as they pair up and move forward to the Worlds – to remember it’s us against the rest of the world, not Brit against Brit, and as long as they remember to do that and keep working together I have absolutely no doubt that using the experiences of the 49er boys that we’ve got in this country, that we’ll be fantastic medal prospects come Rio.