12 for 2012: No 3: Giles Scott, Laser sailor
Our monthly series presenting potential medal-winners at the London Games in six years' time turns to a young man of the sea - and learns how his mentor prepared for the greatest show on earth
At Hayling Island Sailing Club it is early morning, an hour regarded by any self-respecting student as part of that voluntary curfew during which he seeks the further embrace of sweet Morpheus. Not this teenager. Seemingly impervious to the chill gusts which buffet him, Giles Scott prepares to launch his Laser craft.
The conditions and time of day would deter all but the hardiest and most aspirational young sailor. With a London 2012 medal in mind, few come more dedicated to that cause than Scott. When he returns later in the morning to Southampton University, where he is studying geology, the 18-year-old from Huntingdon will be scrutinising fossils. In just over six years' time, he hopes not merely to have a masters degree in his chosen subject but to have extracted precious metal at London 2012 by establishing himself as a master at the helm.
He admits he has permitted himself a fleeting glimpse into the future, though wisely prefers to adhere to the footballers' each-game-as-it-comes adage. "Of course 2012 has entered my mind," he says. "It's that dream which keeps you training hard. But I try not to think about that too much, because I don't want my vision to be clouded by thinking that far ahead."
Scott's progress has already been propitious, however. Under the guidance of Peter Walker, who coaches the national youth squad and the Olympic development squad, he won gold at the 2005 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships in Korea, and won both the UK Youth Championships and trials. When he made his debut at senior level, in the Laser European Championships, he finished 15th overall. He also came first in the Under-21s section of last year's Laser World Championships (20th overall).
The belief that his initial promise can provide him with success in deeper waters has been inspired by those British sailors who have reached the top of the Olympic podium in recent years. Notably they include the iconic figure of Ben Ainslie, the gold medal winner in the Laser at Sydney 2000 and in the Finn at Athens two years ago; Iain Percy, who secured gold in the Finn at Sydney; and Shirley Robertson, victorious in the Europe and the Yngling class in successive Games.
Scott has followed the fortunes of Ainslie in particular with vicarious fascination. "I've always loved watching the Olympics and Ben Ainslie was my sailing hero when I was a youngster," he says. "When I've seen people like Ben achieving what he has, I have imagined myself being out there, competing, and being in his place. It's reinforced for me just how much I want to be able to do that."
He adds: "I admire him a hell of a lot, especially doing so well in the Laser when he was so young, because when he was my age he was a silver medallist already. He's pretty amazing. I wouldn't like to compare myself, as a character, with Ben. He is very driven. But in my own way, I believe I am, too." Scott acknowledges that the cultivation of his talents can only be enhanced by British sailing's hot-house climate of success, one that has been responsible for an impressive medal haul at recent Games. "They are the best in the world," he says of such luminaries as Ainslie, Percy and Robertson. "There's no one better to be sailing with if the oppor-tunity comes around. It's a great advantage that they're so close and you may get the chance to train with them."
The son of John Scott, a member of the UK Sport hierarchy (he is their international director and director of Drug-free Sport), Giles's affinity with waterborne sport was initiated in Canada, where the family moved when he was one. "My elder brother, Nick, tried it first and quite liked it. When we moved back here, by which time I was about six, we lived quite close to Grafham Water, and our parents put us on a beginners' course."
He adds, with a smile: "My first experience was being in a small boat, with the lady instructor holding on to it with a rope so I didn't drift away. Later, I sailed at a club called Middle Nene. They taught kids the basics of racing.
Initially, I didn't want to race. At that age, seven or eight, I just wanted to go sailing. But my mum [Rosalind] tempted me into it. She got me to follow a girl who was slightly older than me round the course. I think the reason why I suddenly liked it was because I suddenly ended up beating her!" A competitive edge, which he insists had always lain latent, had been released.
Though his sailing career prospered through his teenage years, Scott has maintained his academic discipline. "It's tough," he concedes. "The typical student's lifestyle isn't exactly an athlete's lifestyle. You can still have a lot of fun, but you have to be careful and make sure it doesn't happen all that often, and that you still do your training throughout the week."
He adds: "I haven't been doing as much sailing as I would be if I wasn't at university. It's hard to go sailing in the week because of lectures. I've had to call off two days of training in Palma because of a field trip to Tenby I'm going on. That's not ideal."
This year, he plans to compete in all the major events in the Laser (starting with the Princess Sofia, a world-ranking event, in Palma next month), with his principal target the world championships in Korea. At well over 6ft, he eventually plans a transition to the larger single-hander class, the Finn, before his long-term objective, the 2012 Olympics. In doing so, he would follow a similar development route to Ainslie. Emulating the great Olympian is another matter entirely.
Scott's coach warns: "Coming into his first year as a senior, his target will be to stay the same or become better, but in reality that is hard. It's important that he balances academia, sailing and social life, and still performs to a high standard. He's doing exceptionally well, though. Last season, he exceeded expectation. He's got a very stable outlook and isn't fazed by anything."
Scott has a girlfriend at university, who apparently does not share his obsession with sailing. "She thinks it's strange that I should be doing an interview with a national paper," he admits wryly. "But then I like to think I come across as just another student." For the moment, he is.
Time will reveal whether he is another successful gold-digger. The answer is out there, blowing in the wind.
THE ICON: A MESSAGE FROM BEN AINSLIE
Six years is a long time to be thinking ahead, so the first piece of advice I would offer Giles is to take small steps at a time if he wants to compete at the London Games in 2012, and to work on creating a good balance between his sport and his lifestyle.
Giles is combining sailing with studying at university and that is important, but he needs to ensure that while he is enjoying that side of his life he remains disciplined and dedicated to his training.
He seems to be a very driven, talented individual, and I'd also say that as he makes this step up from junior to senior sailing he should try to take positives from the results that he has over the next couple of years - whether they go in his favour or not - and to enjoy the new experiences that he will face.
I believe Giles may switch from the Laser class to the Finn over the next year due to his weight; this is the course that I myself took. The Laser is a very tactical class, so Giles needs to take as much as he can with him when he switches. I look forward to racing against him!
Skandia Team GBR are in a very healthy position at the moment and Britain are world leaders within the sport. There is a great group of youngsters coming through and there will be a lot of competition for Olympic places, but it is healthy to have that competition and I look forward to seeing what this talent has to offer as we move towards the Olympics in 2012.
One of the highlights of my career was winning my first gold medal at the Olympics in Sydney. Winning that final race against the Brazilian Robert Scheidt, who had beaten me four years previously, was the most amazing feeling, and standing on that podium was the greatest accomplishment.
Ben Ainslie won a silver medal in the Laser at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, a gold in the same class at Sydney in 2000 and a gold in the Finn at Athens in 2004.
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