A lot can happen in two years - that is what the British Sailing Team’s next generation of young windsurfers will never stop believing.
From the outside it would seem apparent only wild horses would try to stop Nick Dempsey in his bid to become the most successful male Olympic windsurfer of all time by winning gold at Rio 2016.
Meanwhile, Beijing 2008 bronze medallist, Bryony Shaw, was named British Sailing Team’s Athlete of the Year for 2013 as she continues her quest to lay to rest the ghosts of her London Olympics disappointment with podium glory in Brazil.
But while there is still selection to be won, the young chasing pack will refuse to give up on their own Rio dreams. And even if 2016 does prove one step too far too soon, well the promise for Tokyo 2020 is shining very brightly indeed.
At the start of August, the first official sailing Test Event for Rio – the first Test Event for any sport – took place on the waters of Guanabara Bay.
With the British Sailing Team selecting two sailors per class, Bude’s Izzy Hamilton and Abingdon’s Tom Squires were given the nod to stake their claim to impress alongside Shaw and Dempsey respectively.
Hamilton, the 2009 RS:X Youth World champion and two-time ISAF Youth Worlds silver medallist, has long been regarded as the most likely successor to the throne Shaw has dominated for the past decade.
But Squires’ emergence as the frontrunner of an extremely talented group of early twenty-somethings has happened much more under the radar.
Training with the respective British number ones, Hamilton, who turns 22 at the end of August, and Squires, who celebrated his 21st birthday on the opening day of the Rio Test Event, both have a valuable insight into running an Olympic campaign and what it takes to convert potential into international silverware.
Although just shy of 12 months apart in age, and both products of the RYA Junior and Youth sailing pathway, Hamilton has already been through one Olympic cycle alongside Shaw, deferring her university studies to train full time.
On the other hand, Squires, who was still competing at, and winning, the RYA Eric Twiname Championships as recently as 2009, has enjoyed a rollercoaster year after having his senior breakthrough with ninth at ISAF World Cup Palma in March 2013.
He won his first senior medal, a bronze, at Sail for Gold Regatta behind Dempsey and his London 2012 training partner, Elliot Carney, shortly after with further notable top 20 finishes coming at the 2013 RS:X European Championship (15th) and the ISAF World Championships Test Event in Santander (16th). His Test Event berth was secured with silver at June’s Sail for Gold, again with Dempsey taking gold.
The British Sailing Team stressed this first Test Event was as much about learning the notoriously difficult venue, with its unpredictable winds and tides, as performance.
Hamilton hoped a two-week training camp in Rio with Shaw and their coach Dom Tidey, in February would stand her in good stead for signalling her 2016 ambitions.
She wrote on her blog (www.ihamilton.co.uk), “It was perfect venue training and we spent loads of time on the medal race course and some other areas doing lots of tidal and venue specific training. Building up the knowledge bank on a venue and its conditions is crucial for a high-pressure regatta."
Speaking during August’s Test Event, Hamilton added: “I really like Rio, it’s a really cool place to sail. You can’t fall asleep for 10 seconds on the racetrack because it’s a really, really, really entertaining place to race and such a challenge every day. It’s the same for everyone and I’m really enjoying it."
Meanwhile there is no mistaking Squires’ enthusiasm for being part of select British gang in Rio.
“It’s such a privilege to be part of this Olympic Test Event," he said. “Getting on the water for the first time and the windsurfing was awesome but so different to anywhere else. It’s going to take a bit of practice to know what’s going on out there!"
Both Izzy and Tom proved they can cut it in the World’s top 20 in Rio with Izzy claiming 13th place, including a best race finish of sixth, and Tom 16th, who had two race finishes inside the top 10.
Read more on page two...
[part title="EMERGING LIGHTS"]
Sam Sills, Kieran Martin, Joe Bennett, Connor Bainbridge, Ali Masters, Saskia Sills, Imogen Sills, Noelle Finch.
Remember those names. Their chance to sample Rio may still be yet to come, but with the trophy cabinets this lot have got between them, British windsurfing in both the men’s and women’s classes looks super exciting for at least the next decade.
The ‘Sills’ name has been a permanent fixture on the Youth and Junior results boards over recent years.
Firstly big brother Sam, now 21, picked up two BIC Techno World titles before twice being crowned RYA Youth National champion and representing the British Youth Sailing Team at the ISAF Youth Worlds.
Then his younger twin sisters began to exert their authority; Saskia enjoyed a stellar 2012, including winning the ISAF Youth Worlds title aged just 15, which earned her a nomination for the hugely prestigious ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, while Imogen was the 2013 EUROSAF Youth European champion. The girls were 18 in July.
Kieran Martin, 19, is another with ISAF Youth Worlds glory to his name, as well as 2010 Youth Olympics bronze, and 20-year-old Connor Bainbridge enjoyed a career high at the 2014 RS:X Europeans, finishing the highest placed Brit in ninth overall.
Finch (former U17 RS:X World and European champion) and Bennett (2012 EUROSAF Youth European Champion and 4th U21 2014 RSX Europeans), both 18, reinforce the assertion that Britain’s windsurfing talent pool is bubbling nicely.
Meanwhile 23-year-old Masters, another junior World champion who has been studying for an oceanography degree at Plymouth University, has the credentials and experience to enjoy a successful senior career.
Stephen Park, British Sailing Team Manager, said: “The strength and depth of the young windsurfers coming through the system is testament to the work of the coaches, support staff and sailors themselves at every rung on the pathway ladder.
“Having such intense competition for places amongst the squads drives the overall standard up so these guys should be the ones to watch for years to come."
For more information about the British Sailing Team visit www.rya.org.uk/britishsailingteam