Sailing at Rio 2016: Itchenor member excited over Olympic debut

Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves / Picture by Jesus Renedo/Sailing Energy
Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves / Picture by Jesus Renedo/Sailing Energy
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Olympic debutants Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves believe being so different can be the secret of their success when they make history as the first Brits to compete in the new Nacra 17 catamaran Olympic class in Rio on Wednesday (August 10).

Saxton, a member of Itchenor Sailing Club who hails from Ashwell near Cambridge, and London-raised Groves, teamed up in the Nacra in September 2014, and the new partnership quickly paid dividends as the pair were crowned European Champions the following year.

The Nacra 17 was introduced as a mixed class for Rio 2016, the first time there has ever been a mandatory combined male and female Olympic sailing class, while it also marks the return to the Games for multihulls since the Tornado in Beijing 2008.

Saxton, 26, describes his crew-mate as “very relaxed in her own haphazard way!” while 27-year-old Groves says her team-mate is “real fire”.

With the high-octane Nacra guaranteed to throw up some of the most exciting racing in Rio, the pair insist they have the perfect blend to turn first-timer adrenaline into podium glory.

Groves said: “The Nacra 17 is definitely the fastest, most furious boat in the Olympics. It’s very, very physical, and you have to be able to move at the same time as pulling a large amount of weight, so it’s quite challenging. If you do the wrong thing you know about it, the boat will just kick you off. There’s no let up in it at all.

Ben and I are quite different but I think that really helps. Ben’s real fire, real passion and, not that I don’t have fire or passion, but we express it differently.

Nicola Groves

“Ben and I are quite different but I think that really helps. Ben’s real fire, real passion and, not that I don’t have fire or passion, but we express it differently. If you had two people that were exactly the same it wouldn’t work in the boat together, you would have too much of one thing and not enough of the other, so we work really well.”

Saxton continued: “Finding the correct person to sail with is really hard and really important. Nicola’s ability to keep everything going, just as if it’s the next race, the next manoeuvre, the next tack, the next decision and keep consistency is quite astonishing. That suits me as well because it keeps me just ticking over.

“Sailing the boat is technically very different now to how we were a year ago and actually we will probably still be bettering ourselves during the Olympics. So on the final day of the Olympics we will be the best we’ve ever sailed and that’s cool. The racing is fast, it’s fun, it’s exciting, the boat jumps, there’s never a boring moment.”

Saxton arrives at his first Olympics having come through the RYA Junior and Youth racing ranks as a consistent Championship medal winner, whereas Groves took a slightly different path to the top and, after graduating from Exeter University in 2010, she worked as a Senior Account Executive in an London advertising agency before eventually making the transition to full-time sailing in 2012.

The four-time Nacra World Champions, Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) head to Rio as the favourites for gold, but the Brits believe being part of the most successful Olympic sailing nation can help give them an edge in their quest for an upset.

Saxton said: “It’s special because we’ve got all the team history over all the years, so as members of the team want to keep that going for the team as well as ourselves.”

Groves added: “I remember being on cloud nine for the majority of London 2012 and I wasn’t even competing so I don’t quite know what it is going to be like competing. Being part of the team and the atmosphere in Rio is going to be amazing.”

The Nacra class is scheduled to contest a 13-race series, with three races per day on August 10, 11, 13 and 14 before the final one-off medal race on Tuesday, August16.

To follow Saxton and Groves’ fortunes at Rio 2016 visit www.rya.org.uk/Rio2016, follow @BritishSailing on Twitter and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/britishsailingteam

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