Sailor Saxton eyes Rio Olympics - and not just to make up numbers

Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves
Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves

Ben Saxton is hoping 2016 will be his year.

Alongside partner Nicola Groves, the talent is aiming to represent Great Britain in the Nacra 17 class at next summer’s Rio Olympics.

And if the duo get the nod, Itchenor Sailing Club member Saxton is convinced they can not only grace the biggest stage but thrive on it – and deliver medal glory.

It’s not hard to see why, after a stellar 2015.

Saxton and Groves joined forces in the mixed multi-hull event little more than a year ago, with Groves having transitioned from the 49erFX.

And October’s European Championship gold medal in Barcelona – teamed with World Cup silver in Miami last January and a recent bronze medal in the Copa Brazil – means they are genuine contenders in the new Olympic format.

Itchenor are awesome – they are a club who recognise top-quality sailing.

But the duo are not there yet and will have to earn the right to represent Team GB in South America after lower-ranked pairing John Gimson and Hannah Diamond were named for the Rio test event by selectors in August – a decision that frustrated Saxton.

Saxton said: “Only one team per country goes for each class and we are still undergoing selection for that. At the moment we are trying to do the last push, find sponsors and get to the Games.

“It’s pretty realistic for us to challenge for medals. We have got to get there but if we can, then we will be in the mix.

“We are the top-ranked Nacra 17 team from Britain and fourth in the world, based on consistency of performances over the last two years. But we didn’t go to the test event because another team was selected, which we were quite unhappy about.

“There are two teams who are going to duel it out for selection. You don’t try to just get selected, though, you try to be good enough to win a gold medal, so it doesn’t change too much.”

Saxton has no doubts as to his highlight of 2015 after European glory and admitted nothing quite beats that winning feeling. But the humble 25-year-old was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of team-mate Groves.

He said: “It was awesome to win the European Championship. We have had lots of seconds and thirds at World Cup events and stuff but to actually go and win a major continental title was great.

“It feels so much cooler than coming second! It’s largely down to Nicola, though, she is a star.

“She is an amazing balance of relaxed and organised – and around the course she is awesome.

“She keeps us churning results out now and again, which is how we manage to be so consistent.”

And Saxton, who has spent the majority of his time in Rio’s host village preparing for what would be his first Olympic Games, also paid tribute to the support received back home from Itchenor Sailing Club.

He said: “Itchenor are awesome – they are a club who recognise top-quality sailing, which is nice. I have got a good group of friends there as well, including my twin brother and best mate Tim, which makes it a lot of fun.

‘The support we have had from the club is just amazing, so I would like to say thanks for that.’

JEFF MARSHMAN

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking sports news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be among the first to know what’s going on.

1 Make this website your homepage

2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex

3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex

4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

Share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!