Tokyo Olympics in sight on horizon for Chichester sailor Sophie

Sophie Ainsworth and Sophie Weguelin on the water last year / Picture: Lloyd Images - RYA
Sophie Ainsworth and Sophie Weguelin on the water last year / Picture: Lloyd Images - RYA

Chichester’s Sophie Ainsworth is looking to continue her fine form on the water into 2019 - well aware that 2020 could be even bigger.

She won bronze medals in the World Sailing Championships and the European Championships last year with sailing partner Sophie Weguelin.

The 29-year-old Itchenor Sailing Club member said her proudest achievement was being awarded world bronze in Aarhus, Denmark in August.

Now she is looking to continue her progress as she looks to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Ainsworth competes in the 49er FX events. The 49er FX is a light two-handed performance sailing dinghy and was introduced on to the Olympic scene in Rio 2016.

Speaking about reaching third place in Denmark, Ainsworth said: “We believed we could win a medal but everything had to go our way.

“We’re very proud to compete for GB, but at the same time, it has become quite normal. However, competing for Great Britain is an amazing privilege.”

Ainsworth has been a member of the Itchenor for around eight years. Her parents moved down to Chichester while she studied at university.

She added: “We used to live in Kent, which is four hours from Weymouth to commute. Now I am based on the south coast. It was a lot easier to go and use my parents’ home as a base, when I wasn’t in Weymouth.”

Ainsworth competed in the Rio Olympics in 2016 and hopes to travel to Tokyo next year – but admits it will be a difficult challenge.

She said: “Our Olympic trials will be pretty close with another boat but we’re relatively a new team and we’ve got so much to learn that we’re feeling really positive about getting the Olympic spot.

“We’ve just got to keep the momentum building in the right direction, and we’re really enjoying it. For us, it’s a massive part of it, just to make sure we enjoy it, so we get the best out of ourselves and improve the colour of the medals.

Ainsworth will aim to prepare for Tokyo 2020 by qualifying for the Olympic test event that will take place at the Enoshima Yacht Harbour in August this year. Only one British team can qualify for the regatta.

She also hopes to compete at the World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand in November and December.

The European Sailing Championships will take place on home soil – in Weymouth and Portland.

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Ainsworth and team-mate Weguelin, who have become known as the Sailing Sophies, have known each other for a number of years on and off the water and decided last year to compete together.

Ainsworth said: “It’s quite a fun story in that we’ve known each other since we were nine years old, and we were rivals until the age of 17. We then had a successful year when we teamed up and won the ladies and youth worlds after having sailed for four months, and went to the ISAF Youth Worlds and won a silver medal.

“From there, we got selected for 470 Olympic development squad. We were the training partners for Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark up at the 2012 Olympics when they won the silver medal, so it was a vital part of our experience.

“But we’ve got to the stage where we’d been at the same university together, doing the same course, living in the same house, sailing together. We just needed a break from each other, so for the Rio 2016 cycle, Sophie stayed sailing at 470 and I went into the FX.

“We teamed up in March and it was amazing because we jumped into the boat together and we wanted to sail in the same way and the communication came quite naturally because we’ve done those fundamental years together.”