The road to 2012 glory has just got one step closer for some of the nation's top sailors who today (20 September) became the first British athletes to be officially selected to compete for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Ben Ainslie, the triple Olympic gold and silver medallist and Britain's most successful Olympic sailor, heads the list of 11 athletes confirmed by the British Olympic Association as being on the startline at Weymouth and Portland for next year's sailing events.
Sailing is the first of the 26 Olympic sports to have officially selected any of its athletes, with the 11 sailors revealed today at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, competing across seven of the ten Olympic classes and representing a mix of both established Olympic medallists and first-time Olympians.
Ainslie, 34, has earned the right to race for his fourth Olympic gold in 2012, gaining selection in the heavyweight Finn dinghy event, while Iain Percy will aim for a third gold in total and a second in partnership with best friend Andrew Simpson in the Star class with whom he won the Olympic title in Beijing.
Paul Goodison will look to defend his Laser class crown on his home waters of Weymouth and Portland, while Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw will look to build on their respective Olympic bronze medals in the RS:X Men's and Women's windsurfing events (Dempsey, Athens 2004; Shaw, Beijing 2008).
The 2010 World Championship-winning trio of Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor have earned the nod to race at their first Olympic Games in the Elliot 6m Women's Match Racing event - a new event on the 2012 programme - with Lucy and Kate the first two sailing sisters ever to compete for Great Britain at the Olympics.
A whirlwind seven months after teaming up and following a string of podium finishes, Olympic debutant Hannah Mills and Beijing Olympian Saskia Clark have earned the confidence of the Royal Yachting Association selectors in the 470 Women's event. Mills joined forces with Clark in February 2011 following the retirement of Clark's former helm Sarah Ayton.
Selection trials are ongoing in the remaining three Olympic classes - the 470 Men, the 49er and the Laser Radial events.
Team GB Chef de Mission Andy Hunt commented:
"This announcement is a key milestone and an exciting and important moment for us - it represents the beginning of the creation of Team GB, Our Greatest Team of approximately 550 athletes. Having the first athletes confirmed for Team GB for the London 2012 Olympic Games is fantastic. The eleven sailors are a good mix of experience, including six Olympic medallists, as well as promising Olympic debutants who are World or European medallists in their own right.
"There is certainly some fierce competition within sailing and there are no free passes to compete for Team GB in any sport in London 2012. In fact, in terms of overall depth and talent, we believe Team GB in London 2012 will be the most competitive British Olympic Team in modern history. Our aspiration for Team GB in London 2012 is to win more medals across more sports than for over a century."
RYA Olympic Manager/Team GB Sailing Team Leader Stephen Park added:
"We're delighted to be announcing the first sailing members of Team GB. All the sailors selected today have had a fantastic year of performances which has resulted in them gaining selection at an early opportunity, allowing them good time to focus their campaigns specifically on the challenges of Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour in preparation for the 2012 Games.
"The mix of experience we have with the six Olympic medallists, one Olympian and four first-time Olympians provides an exciting balance that will hopefully deliver the required results in 2012 while at the same time increasing the pool of 2016 Olympic triallists."
Ben Ainslie said:
"It's an honour to be selected to compete for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. This qualification process was definitely the hardest compared to the previous four I've been through. The previous experiences helped, but at the same time having the Olympics in the UK puts that added bit of pressure on, we all want to compete on home waters, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"The competition was strong, having four top British sailors (Giles Scott, Ed Wright, Andrew Mills and Mark Andrews) battling for qualification meant I had to be at my best in every race. Certainly that is a credit to those guys, how well they were sailing and how they pressured me all the way in every event. At the same time pressure has always brought the best out of me and the competition with the British sailors gave me that added edge in competition. It's now all about getting the plans right for my fitness and preparation to peak at the right time, you don't want to reach burnout and the Olympics are the end goal!"
Paul Goodison commented:
"It feels really good to have been selected early for the 2012 Games - I know it's still 10 months away but for me it's really important that selection's out of the way so I can start to focus on what I need to do to put myself in the right position to deliver in 10 month's time.
"This will be my third Olympic Games - it's going to be very different to the last two but with a home Olympics I'm sure it's going to be an advantage to be on home waters with a home crowd. We spent a lot of time training out there in Weymouth and hopefully this will pay dividends next year.
"Winning the Games in China was just an amazing experience for me - from the lows of finishing fourth in Athens to then winning the gold medal in China was fantastic. I can only imagine what it would be like to repeat this feat again in Weymouth with my family and friends there on British waters - it would be an amazing experience so I'm looking forward to 2012."
Bryony Shaw said:
"For me this will be my second Olympics, and it's exciting that I've been able to keep on improving. It's amazing to be part of such a strong and special team and to feel the vibe that we're all focussed and confident with the task ahead.
"To earn my selection by winning medals in Weymouth was the main focus for me and it's given me great confidence to have been able to do that, and gives me a great feeling that I can perform there. My windsurfing has transformed, everything is on track and we're pretty confident that there are some more gains to be made on the physiological side."
Nick Dempsey added:
"It's great to have gained selection, but really it's just another step on the way. You still get the feeling that it's the start of the build-up, and little things like starting to get your bits of Olympic kit are quite exciting and bring home how close it's getting.
"This is my fourth Olympics, and this one is just everything to me. It's the one - the Games that I've been waiting for my whole life. You're never going to get better than winning an Olympic medal on home waters. I've performed really well in Weymouth this year but there are still some big gains to be made, so everything for me is about preparing for Weymouth and fine-tuning everything - learning more, getting fitter, stronger and faster."
Lucy Macgregor said:
"It's pretty exciting, and it's great to be part of such a strong team. Gaining selection feels like the next step on the road, and the start of more hard work ahead of us. None of the three of us has any Olympic experience, so we don't entirely know what to expect, but we're confident in the plans we have in place and we can learn from the other members of the team and from our coach Maurice on that side of things.
"We have some more training time ahead of us in Weymouth this year, but the next big competition for us is the World Championships. For the other nations it will be vital for country qualification so the competition will certainly be tough, and will give us the chance to race against the best teams and see what else we need to work on."
Kate Macgregor added:
"It's really exciting to be selected - it didn't hit me for a few hours after I'd heard as we were off sailing, but it's really exciting and makes everything that little bit more real now!
It's our first Olympics, but being part of such a great team and having all these people around us with Olympic experience that we look up to means that it won't be such a scary thought.
A medal is our ultimate goal and we have the potential to achieve that - we've just got to keep working hard over the winter and throughout next year and hopefully will things will continue to fall into place for us."
Annie Lush said:
"It took a while for the news to sink in! Even though we haven't had a clear competitor in our trials, I have been trying for eight years to make it to the Games so to have that finally confirmed is an exciting moment.
"There's a lot of work still to do - the goal is not just to go, but to go and win a medal, and gaining selection makes you realise how close it all is. It's our first Olympics, so the key will be trying to predict what those unique challenges of the Games will be and preparing for them. We'll be trying to learn from the others within the team, and our coach as well, who already have that experience, and the Test Event was a real learning experience for us in that regard.
"It would be a massive, massive achievement to win a medal next year and an amazing marker of the best part of a decade of hard work that went into it."
Iain Percy commented:
"That's the first hurdle over, but really ever since Beijing we've been focussing on 29 July 2012 and all the hard work over the past few years has been to make sure we're in the best possible shape come that day.
"I'm really proud to be representing Team GB at my fourth Olympics. It's every athlete's dream to win an Olympic medal at home - it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we'll be giving it our all to be up there on the podium again next year."
Andrew Simpson added:
"It's a real privilege and a special moment to be selected for the London 2012 Games, but selection alone is not enough - it's just a means to an end. We want to be there on the startline in 2012 with a real shot at retaining our gold, so everything we've been working on since Beijing 2008 has been geared to towards optimising our racing, our equipment and ourselves towards the challenges we expect from Weymouth as a venue."
Hannah Mills said:
"I didn't believe it when I first heard the news - although we'd had a great few months and some fantastic results since teaming up, I'd built it up in my mind that our trials would be carrying on so it came as a big surprise.
"Things were all looking a bit different for the both of us seven months ago, so to be given this chance is really, really exciting, but really it's just a stepping stone on the way with lots of hard work still ahead of us. The Test Event was a great eye-opener in terms of how things might be at the Games. We've been given this massive task and now we just need to sort out all our plans so we're in the best place to achieve it."
Saskia Clark added:
"I'm so pleased and relieved! We've had some really good results since teaming up but didn't know if it was enough. I'm so pleased for Hannah as this will be her first Olympics and we've had a good start to our campaign with much more, we feel, still to come.
"It was a dark time for me back in February [when Sarah Ayton retired] but Hannah and I gave it everything in the time we've had. When we teamed up we knew we didn't have a lot of time, and our aim was to do enough to try and push the trials on to Perth or further. We surpassed our expectations winning medals in all but one event we've done together, but there's a huge amount of hard work still to do and I know that a lot of the other girls will come back stronger next year."
Sailing's 2012 legacy is already in action, proven by a number of youth attending the team announcement. These youngsters are part of the RYA's OnBoard (OB) programme to introduce sailing and windsurfing as a sport for young people. The children are all year 6 pupils from the Jubilee Primary School, located in the London Borough of Hackney, which is one of the five London Olympic Boroughs. Over ten years, OB is working to introduce half a million children into sailing and windsurfing. Jubilee Primary School attends regular sessions at the North London RYA OnBoard Centre based at Stoke Newington Reservoir Centre and has exchange visits to the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing venue.
Click here for further information on the selected sailors or click here for the Olympic Sailing website for London2012