Going for gold

Sailing journalist Andy Rice takes a closer look at the sailors getting ready for the Paris 2024 Games and their journeys so far

Team GB

It’s the final run-in to the Olympic Games, Paris 2024, and a busy time for the athletes on the British Sailing Team. 

The frontend of the season is packed with major events, and already this year Micky Beckett has hiked his way to a bronze medal at the ILCA 7 World Championships in Australia in January. Then in early February Emma Wilson foiled to a silver medal at the iQFOiL World Championships in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.  

With so much going on in the season there won’t be many of our Olympic sailors at the RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show, but Fynn Sterritt will be making an appearance on the Main Stage on Saturday. Fynn, along with his long-time helmsman James Peters, has been selected to represent Great Britain in the 49er men’s skiff. As a first timer to the games, it will be a big eye-opener for the Scottish skiff sailor, but first he and James are looking to post a good score at the fast-approaching 49er World Championships due to take place in Lanzarote just a week after the show. 

Fynn loves to take part in other sailing outside of the Olympic scene and competed in the Musto Skiff Nationals at Restronguet in Cornwall last September. He and James have also raced together at the Fireball Nationals and James has won the RS200 Nationals on a few occasions too. 

Flynn Sterrit

Connecting with sailors 

RYA Performance Director Mark Robinson says it’s vital to maintain the connection between the elite level and the grass roots of the sport whenever they can between what is an immensely busy Olympic training and competition schedule. “The RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show is a great place for athletes like Fynn to connect with sailors from around the country. Fynn is passionate about the sport far beyond the Olympic scene and he’s looking forward to sharing some of that passion at the show.” 

In contrast to Fynn about to experience his first Olympic Games, this will be 49erFX crew Saskia Tidey’s third trip to the Games. Now sailing with young helmswoman Freya Black, Saskia’s route into the sport was atypical, says Mark. “She played netball at international level for Ireland and didn’t discover sailing until her late teens. But she already had the right mental and physical attributes to succeed in the sport if she applied herself. And she’s proven to be one of the best in the world.”

Freya and Saskia

RYA pathways

The Saskia Tidey example helped inspire a couple of schemes that the RYA has promoted in recent years. Back in 2018 when kiteboarding was confirmed as a new Olympic discipline, the RYA launched a #Kite4Gold programme to attract female talent to try out the sport. No previous kiteboarding experience was required, and as it turns out, Britain’s Olympic representative this summer came from a non-kiteboarding background. 

Ellie Aldridge cut her racing teeth in conventional boats like the 29er youth skiff but she, along with the rest of the British women, have worked hard together to learn this tricky discipline and turn themselves into the most successful national squad on the international circuit, with four athletes ranked in the world’s top ten.

After taking a silver medal at last year’s Worlds and winning the European title in Portsmouth, Ellie will be GBR’s first ever female representative in this new Olympic discipline.

Ellie Aldridge


Following in the wake of such a successful experiment, in 2023 the RYA launched a similar scheme called Crew4Gold – a ground-breaking new talent search to discover female athletes capable of becoming Olympic medal-winning 49erFX crews. 

The aim was to find British females aged between 14 and 25 who are over 1.68m (5ft 6ins) tall, fiercely competitive, and highly motivated to succeed to join Crew4Gold. The RYA was overwhelmed with more than 300 applicants, many having never sailed before. That’s exactly what the programme was hoping for, as Mark Robinson explains: “Crew4Gold is a deliberate move away from the historical results-based pathway into Olympic level sailing, focusing much more on the potential of someone to become a world-class athlete” he says. 

“We wanted to find people with the right mindset and the right physical attributes regardless of previous sailing experience. Now we have nine female crews in the programme and yes, some of them are sailors, but others are from cricket, netball and rowing. So, a lot like the way that Saskia came into the sport. Now we have nine female Crew4Gold athletes training with a number of helms who have come through various pathways, all working hard to equip themselves with the necessary skills to win at 49erFX racing.”

Alternative pathways  

Of course, most Olympic aspirants won’t make it to the Games, but other pathways are opening, not least in this year’s America’s Cup. Former Olympic representative Penny Clark moved on to a very successful career with the RYA as an elite-level coach. Now Penny heads up the Athena Pathway and is the coach as well as one of the selectors of the women’s team that will represent Great Britain later this year in Barcelona at the Women’s America’s Cup. 

Penny will be on stage during Saturday to bring us up to date with the team, skippered by triple Olympic medallist Hannah Mills. Similarly, some of the young male athletes from the British Sailing Team have been recruited to the British challenge for the Youth America’s Cup.

“Being part of the British Sailing Team is not purely about going to the Games,” says Mark. “There is life beyond the Olympics, and we are always looking to create well-rounded sailors who can perform on any stage in any conditions. Almost all female and male athletes selected by Athena Pathway are current or ex British Sailing Team members and we’re delighted to see them competing in other challenges such as the America’s Cup, and importantly to see the professional opportunity for female sailors that this represents.”   

See you at the show!

Join Penny and Fynn at the RYA Dinghy and Watersports Show this weekend (24-25 February). Tickets are still available, and RYA members and children 15 and under go free.