When it comes to keeping the fire in your belly in the face of adversity and performing well under pressure there is no doubt that professional athletes have it down to a fine art. When we were given the opportunity to interview Rio Olympic Gold medalist and World Sailor of the Year 2016, Saskia Clark, we jumped at the chance. We were amazed at how many of the challenges faced by athletes in competition and training are relatable to those we encounter in business or in the quest of long-term goals. If you (like us) could benefit from some advice on how to flourish under pressure and are curious to know what it feels like to stand on a podium having won Olympic gold then this is a must read!
How did you discover your passion for sailing?
It definitely took a while! I was fine sailing with my sister and family but hated doing it on my own. Gradually I gained confidence and it was the first thing I ever beat my elder, talented sister at, so from that point I was hooked.
As a professional athlete, you must spend far more time in training than you do in competition. How do you maintain your discipline and motivation?
It has changed over my career. As a younger athlete I definitely had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, always felt I had something to prove, so that was a powerful motivating force. As I've got older it became more of a quiet, internal "voice" I guess, to be the best I could be, bring out the best in my team and execute that best performance under pressure, when it mattered.
You won gold at Rio with your teammate, Hannah Mills. How do you support each other when you're under pressure, both in and out of the boat?
Han and I were under considerable pressure from the start as we had a limited amount of time until London 2012 selection, ultimately I think it takes trust in each other that you are both trying your absolute best and are communicating responsibly. We worked hard to communicate and listen in a way so it was understood that feedback was to make the boat go faster, be better and win, not a personal criticism. Pressure then became something that bound us as a team in a positive way, us against everyone else, rather than anything destructive. Off the boat it was once again about communication and understanding. Essentially, if you can understand what is causing you stress, that is the first step in turning pressure into a positive.
Do you feel that women in sport face any unique challenges? If so, how have you worked to overcome them?
I still think there is some way to go so that the challenges in life are equal, whether male or female, but not particularly related to my life in sport. I get bored by casual sexism or "banter", as it tends to be called. I'm definitely guilty of laughing along and not confronting it. Maybe the confidence of getting on and achieving my own thing proves to myself what I need to know and believe.
Can you tell us in one sentence how you felt standing on the podium having received Olympic Gold?
I felt overwhelmingly proud of what Han, Joe (our coach) and I had achieved. A campaign is a journey of extreme highs mixed with battles and moments of loneliness; to overcome all that as a team and deliver on the biggest stage is just breathtaking.
We really appreciate your support for the #iamanessexgirl campaign. Having grown up in Essex yourself, why do you think it's so important to ditch the negative stereotype?
Just watching the news this morning shows the huge challenges that we face in this country and around the world. We need our young people to grow into inspired, intelligent, thoughtful and respectful people to help solve these problems. Having preconceived ideas about a person's intelligence, motivations and sexual freedoms does nothing to help achieve that. I feel lucky that I've always been confident enough to challenge someone that might try and judge me because I'm from Essex but that is not always the case and it would be an absolutely disaster if young people ever thought that their ambitions and goals are limited by such a definition.
One of the goals of our campaign is to inspire the next generation of young girls growing up in Essex. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
"You're never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you're never as bad as they say when you lose." I think it's important to believe we can all keep improving both personally and professionally. It can be hard to get back on track when you have had a disappointment so just go back to some basics of where and why you started, what you know you are good at and build from there. And at the other end, it's important to remember that success is just a moment in time, so enjoy it but don't ever believe that it defines you.
We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Saskia Clark will be attending The Mother Hub Launch Event on 6th December at The Turner Barnes Gallery in Shenfield, Essex. We'll be hosting a live Q&A with Saskia and our other panelists, Emma Odell and Lady Bakewell Park and can't wait to learn more about how these incredible women set their career goals and stay motivated to achieve them.
To find out more information and to book tickets, head over to our Events page.
Images courtesy of the RYA.