Stepping up – The transition from youth champion to Olympic hopeful 

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With Tokyo’s recent winning bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, thoughts move to which of the British Sailing Team’s young talents will be there aiming to maintain Great Britain’s enviable track record on the waves.

The only thing that can guarantee success at the Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 and at future Olympic and Paralympic Games is to continually nurture and develop the nation’s rising stars.

For the select few invited to join the British Sailing Team’s Podium Potential (PP) programme, the partnership can provide the perfect platform when matched by the desire and commitment to work through the challenges that face sailors transitioning from the RYA Youth Racing programme into Olympic classes racing.

Among the most recent graduates to join the programme are budding 49erFX sailors Vikki Payne and Stephanie Orton.

Based in Chichester, West Sussex, the girls dominated the Youth Racing scene winning three consecutive RYA Youth National Championship titles in the 29er class, and are now making the transition into the new Olympic class for Rio 2016 – the high performance 49erFX.

“We were so excited when we are asked to join the British Sailing Team Podium Potential programme. We were thrilled to be given the opportunity to further our learning and to be able to say that we are now part of such a successful team is a real honour,” said the 18-year-old Payne from Emsworth, West Sussex.

“It is amazing to see people you aspire to race against in the same boat park as yourself, wearing the same GBR t-shirt that you are wearing. Everyone in the team is so friendly; we feel so comfortable asking any questions and gaining knowledge from people who have had huge success at major World Championships and at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Payne continued: “The benefits of being involved in the Programme are massive in terms of our development. Training in such a small squad will be extremely valuable as it will allow us to focus on the smaller details of our training as well as giving us the opportunity to learn from the boys who have been in the boat for a longer period of time. Having a large support network behind us will give us more confidence when it comes to racing next summer as we will know we will be prepared mentally and physically. The guidance we receive from our coach, the team specialists and other members of the squad and support staff is a massive benefit of being part of the British Sailing Team.”

Payne and Orton recently attended a British Sailing Team Squad camp at Hayling Island Sailing Club (HISC), which served as a great opportunity to get all the sailors, coaches, sports science team and support staff together to create an environment of excellence and set the culture and tone of what it is to be part of British Sailing Team.

After spending four days at HISC, 17-year-old Orton said: “The first thing we noticed was the intensity of the Squad Camps. No minute is wasted and our time is used efficiently to allow us to all gain as much as possible from the all the different members of support staff who are on hand. There are big differences between the Youth Racing programme which is what we expected, it is much more sailor-led and we feel we have much more input into what we spend our time on, not only on the water, but also on land-based activities.”  

One of the many challenges new sailors face when joining the programme is managing the transition from Youth sailing to Olympic sailing whilst also having to juggle the many other lifestyle commitments.

Payne explains: “Steph has had the added pressure of balancing college work and her sailing programme. She has had to be proactive in organising her time efficiently to allow her to keep up to date with her college work so that it does not affect our campaign.  

“Juggling the various aspects of our campaign and personal lives requires a lot of planning and communication which are skills we are quickly learning! Time-management is certainly a massive gain area for us as a team as we have started to plan, plan and plan!”

The duo are also fully aware of how demanding the high performance 49erFX is compared to the 29er in which they had so much success in their Youth Racing days. Now training out of Hayling Island Sailing Club, which was recently earmarked as an RYA High Performance Club, the girls also have to focus on the transition into a completely new class.

“Due to the fact we have only recently stepped into a new class we have had to take it all back to basics and even learn how to tack again! We have broken down our programme into smaller, more achievable goals which allows us to stay motivated and make sure we are moving in the right direction,” explained Orton.  

“The boat is far more physically demanding then any boat either of us has sailed before. It requires a lot more strength and endurance and this is an area of our campaign that we believe will make a huge difference to our sailing. With this in mind, we have new training programmes in place and already feel ourselves becoming fitter, stronger and better athletes.”

Barrie Edgington, British Sailing Team Podium Potential Manager, added:  “Whilst the Olympic Dream is not for everyone, the Podium Potential Programme picks up on all the lessons from the RYA Youth Racing programme and helps best prepare sailors for the challenges of what is often a six to eight year journey to the top.

“These are early days for Vikki and Steph, but they have both shown the required potential, physical capabilities, behaviours and commitment.  They have both really grabbed the bull by the horns, and it is especially reassuring that they have a good understanding of the importance of communication, planning and balancing commitments to allow them to meet their academic goals, without missing out on the learning opportunity the British Sailing Team Podium Potential Programme has to offer.  

Edgington concluded: “With the great work of the British Sailing Team coaches and support staff underpinning our young talent in the pathway, the continued success for GBR at Olympic and Paralympic level looks bright.  I urge Youth sailors who are keen to transition into Olympic classes to work with the RYA Youth Racing Managers, support staff and academic leads to best prepare for the road to Tokyo 2020 or beyond.”