TP TALKS TO... Saskia Clark (MBE)

by Travelling Peach

Growing up, my parents loved sailing - that’s how they met - so as children we were always by the water. I’m the youngest of 3 sisters and my eldest sister had a horse, which we all loved, but my parents thought it was a lot of work so, rather than get more horses, they encouraged us to sail. We could store the boat in the garden during the week, didn’t have to feed it… so that’s what we did. It’s funny because I was such a fussy sailor as a child. I loved sailing with them but as soon as they encouraged me to sail alone, I got so upset; I didn’t like it at all.

The turn around moment came when… My sister was a complete natural on the water and adored sailing so we’d travel around the country watching her compete. I’d follow behind, kicking stones, eating ice-cream and having fun with my friends. Then, aged 8-9, I became one of the eldest in my group of non-competitors. All of my friends had started sailing and I was the only one left. It was a case of be bored or suck it up so that’s what I did. Luckily, I’d grown into the sport by then. I was excited by the independence and adventure of it all and I’ve loved it ever since.

The most surprising thing about sport is the extremity of the incredible highs and lows. Nothing can prepare you for those. When you win, you experience the most amazing highs. The intoxicating sensation of doing a job well - there’s nothing like it - but you also experience some of the most crushing lows. It’s a total yo-yo of emotions. One minute, you’re winning everything and feeling like you’re the bees-knees; the next, you feel like you’ve got noting going for you… you’re broke, trying to train and improve within an intense timeframe and motivating yourself to keep trying, despite feeling like you’re making no progress. As a child, I used to watch athletics and be whisked away by the glamour of it all. You get the sense that that’s how life is and that everything goes their way but living it is actually quite different.


‘When people talk about the ‘skills’ required for sports, they often think of sport-specific skills… masting, physics, fitness etc… but mentality is so important. To be a successful athlete, you need more than skills and natural talent, you need to be mentally tough because, if you’re not, you won’t survive.’


Every successful sportsperson has 3 common traits ingrained in them: tenacity, stubbornness and a strong sense of self-belief. That’s vital because sport is fickle so natural skill and talent will only get you so far. When you’re winning, the comfort of being flavour of the month with sponsors, team managers etc., comes easily but, when you’re not, it feels like the whole world is against you. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. Most people will never see this but, when you feel those lows, there are no cameras, no podiums, no crowds… it’s just you sitting there alone telling yourself ‘Keep going or give up.’ ‘Yes, it’s you whose going to achieve this… You are going to be the one who’s going to make it.’ That self-belief, tenacity and stubbornness is the only thing that pull you through.

I vividly remember watching the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I was 12 and, when Sally Gunnel won the 400m hurdles gold medal, something special happened in the atmosphere, especially for Team GB. That whole Olympics was an enormous breakout for them; it felt like anything was possible. At the time, I was very sporty and thought ‘Wow! This is what I want to do. I want to go to the Olympics.’ At that time, I didn’t want to sail; I wanted to race the 100m but it turns out that I’m not so good at the 100m as an adult so…



‘Team GB has won 12 gold medals in sailing at the last 4 Olympics – incredible!’



The 1996 Olympics was disastrous for Team GB. We lost nearly everything but, fortunately, sailing did very well. The timing was perfect. That year was the beginning of Lottery Funding and they’d decided that the first sports to receive a much-needed cash injection would be the ones who did well – sailing, rowing and cycling. That was fantastic because, against our competitors, we became the most professional, most organised team in the sailing world and, even now, they’re still trying to keep up. Some of the bigger nations like Australia are getting there but the British Team is still the best and at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics, we were definitely ahead of the curve.

Sailing’s more of a household sport now than ever before – it’s awesome! Sir Ben Ainslie, one of our best sailing athletes, has definitely played a key role in this. He was such a successful Olympian and a great role model too so he’s become our poster boy for the sport, perhaps even transitioning it to become a sporting personality. Sailing’s receiving some great exposure in mainstream press so hopefully more people will take it up.

The best thing about sailing is the adventure. It can take you everywhere from the Caribbean seas to the Cornish coast and completely vitalises your mind and body. Obviously, Olympic racing is quite intense and ordered but, as a sport, sailing’s not like that at all, especially recreationally. Many of my friends have brought small boats and spend weekends camping and sailing with their children. It’s awesome. Today’s world is so busy and full of technology; this helps to slow things down a little and enables them to enjoy some of the freedom and adventures that we experienced as children.

When I started travelling with Team GB, the Internet was still in its infancy. EasyJet, booking your own travel arrangements online etc. was all new and exciting but let’s just say we weren’t particularly good at it haha. That led to so many mishaps and adventures. Some of my most fun times were spent stranded in the middle of Europe at cities that we thought were near our destinations but were actually miles away. We didn’t have mobile phones so trying to figure out how we were going to solve the problems was a complete adventure - similar to orienteering. At the time, it was super stressful but, invariably, those times always ended up being a brilliant team building affair and quite fun in the end.


‘I’m one of those people who, in a bar, will always end up in the corner chatting to the weirdest people because they’re usually the most interesting.’


OLYMPIC BUBBLE #SuperFanMoment #KeepMeAway
I love being in the whole Olympic bubble. You meet so many incredible people wandering around the Olympic Village... Usain Bolt, Kobe Bryant… I’m a massive sports fan so I feel quite lucky that I’ve never stayed in the Olympic Village for any of my Olympics. We’ve always been based at Satelite City, just outside, so it meant we could fully concentrate on the sport. Performance-wise, that was definitely best for me because otherwise I can imagine myself running around trying to find Federer, Djokovic or all of these other total superstars. The two nights I spent in The Village each Olympics were pretty special. So high on adrenalin and energy.


ESSEX. I love sailing in Essex. It’s one of my favourite places; not because it’s particularly stunning – the water’s classically English Brown – but because it’s where I’ve always sailed with my family and friends so it has great memories.

EAST COAST, AUSTRALIA. In the summer, I’d definitely recommend sailing around the East Coast of Australia. It’s one of the most strikingly beautiful places in the world. Then, during the winter, the Caribbean, St. Barts and Antigua are stunning.

THE BODY HOLIDAY, CARIBBEAN. If you’re looking for a vacation that’s a combination of land and sea, where you can sail whilst enjoying a ‘traditional’ vacation, The Body Holiday is perfect. They offer a wide variety of activities so you can participate in sailing lessons, swimming, yoga, tennis or lay on the beach, enjoying massages and cocktails. It’s great.

YACHTING, GREEK ISLANDS. If you’re not a keen sailor but enjoying sailing, or want to relax and explore a little more, I recommend chartering a yacht. That way, you can take an experienced skipper with you and travel for longer distances and times, and explore fabulous islands that you wouldn’t usually be able to. Sailing around the Mediterranean and visiting several Greek Islands is lovely.


We spend a lot more time training on land than people realise. A typical training day includes 3 hours on the water followed by 1.5hrs in the gym. I always focused on strength training and cardio to build muscle mass because I needed to be slightly heavier to be in the boat; and also on developing strong, big arms and shoulders – a big advantage when sailing. After that, we’d spend a lot of time looking after our boats. The maintenance, rigging, de-rigging etc. takes at least 2hrs so it’s requires a lot of commitment. Sailors aren’t sponsored for boats so we own them and it’s our responsibility to look after them. By then, we’re ready to eat and sleep.

Hannah Mills and I had a great rivalry with the New Zealand girls so they’re definitely my favourite team to compete against. They won gold in London and we won silver, then in Rio we won gold and it was reversed so, from a sailing point of view, it would definitely be them. We recently watched Roger Federer from the Royal Box at Wimbledon. He’s an amazing player to watch, so graceful; and he’s one of those people who inspires you to think that you might actually be able to play tennis one day. I’d love to play a match with him or even take him sailing.

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