The end of the 'three blondes'
The affectionately-termed ‘three blondes in a boat’ have hung up their collective sailing boots after the decision to include a women’s match racing event for 2012, in modified Elliot 6 metre boats in place of the Yngling, was rubber-stamped by the International Sailing Federation at its Annual Conference in Madrid last month.
The trio of 28-year-old Ayton, 31-year-old Webb and Wilson, 22, are still considering their options for 2012 in the remaining women’s Olympic classes, but it marks the end of the road for the self-styled ‘Yngling Girls’.
They will announce their future plans in the New Year, although the prospect of Elliot 6m match racing event has been ruled out.
“Our strengths are definitely in fleet racing,” Ayton explained, “and as there’s no fleet racing option for three women any longer, that effectively means the end of the line for us as a team.
“But it’s been an incredible journey for the Yngling Girls – and for everyone who has helped and supported us in our mission to dominate the fleet and be the best in the world.
“There are just so many people who’ve played a part in our success. When we set out on our own after Athens it was really tough, but the RYA, through the Skandia Team GBR programme, supported us 100%.”
Webb continued: “We were lucky enough to then secure Mirabaud as our personal campaign sponsors and without them, our boat wouldn’t even have made it to the startline beyond 2006. They took a risk in backing us, and have been so supportive, giving us the freedom to carry out our campaign in the way we needed to, so we’re just over the moon to have been able to share our success with them.”
Wilson added: “We also owe massive thanks to our coach, Paul Brotherton, who helped give us belief in ourselves that we could win when it mattered.
“The energy Paul put in, and the sacrifices he made have been amazing and it’s such a shame that they don’t give Olympic medals to coaches, because he truly deserves one.
“Chris Owen of Owen Sails has been an absolute legend – his commitment to the cause really helped us gain that extra speed edge downwind – and we’re also hugely grateful to Ian Cleaver who bought our awesome Games boats and to Sir Don Gosling for supporting us throughout our campaign.”
The girls also paid tribute to the shoreside efforts of Lynx Sports Management, who looked after the Yngling Girls’ sailing sponsorship affairs, and Richard Butcher of legal firm Paynes Hicks Beach.
“It’s been a privilege to work with them. They kept us out of trouble and allowed us to go sailing and do what we do best, without having to worry about anything else,” said Webb.
Although they’ve confirmed the Elliot 6m match racing event does not feature in their thoughts for the Olympic regatta at Weymouth and Portland, the girls are remaining otherwise tight-lipped for the time being on their plans towards 2012.
Ayton says only: “It’s important to us world class athletes that we make what are ultimately the right choices for us, and that we take the time that we need to make those decisions and prepare properly towards 2012.”
Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb won gold in the Yngling class with Shirley Robertson at the Athens 2004 Games, but became an even more dominant force on the world circuit after joining up with the 22-year-old Pippa Wilson at the end of 2006.
The trio scored podium positions for Skandia Team GBR in every event they competed at in 2007, most notably picking up gold at the ISAF World Sailing Championships in Cascais, Portugal, and gold at the Olympic Test Event at Qingdao to earn their nomination for the Beijing 2008 Games.
The Olympic year proved an equally lucrative one for the Yngling Girls with a second world title and a European Championship win stamping their authority on the class ahead of the main showdown at the Olympic regatta in Qingdao.
They mastered the tricky Chinese waters and executed a clinical and confident final race to clinch Olympic gold – a second for Ayton and Webb and a first for Wilson.