GB's shining stars: the sailors

Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson
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The Independent Online

Sarah Ayton will ever be known to millions of non-sailing fans as one third of Team GB's gold medal winning Three Blondes in a Boat. But for her, China will always have extra-special memories.

This summer's games will be the warm-up for another major event of an altogether more personal kind – her marriage in October to the British Olympic windsurfer Nick Dempsey.

After a nine-year engagement, the couple bought their wedding rings separately on their way to the Games. They have been keeping in touch on the internet. Contending with each other's determination to succeed looks likely to be the next big hurdle.

Dempsey, who narrowly missed out on adding to the bronze medal he won at Athens, has admitted his fiancée's gold in the same class in 2004 was an inspiration and a challenge. "I thought, 'I can't go home without a medal, not when she's got a gold'," he said.

According to Dempsey, his wife-to-be, who began sailing at the age of six, can struggle to relax. "I can switch off from it. Sarah can't. It dominates every aspect of her mind. She cannot turn off. It's what she does. It's who she is. Her campaign is everything to her. That's a little bit difficult sometimes," he said.

For Sarah Webb, success yesterday comes after a near-catastrophic accident that could have ruled her out of the Games entirely. With just six weeks to go until the start, she slipped and smashed her face into a metal towing post as she helped move the Yngling boat. A lump the size of a tennis ball developed on the 31-year-old's face.

For the youngest member of the crew, Pippa Wilson, 22, victory was tinged with sadness. Even before setting off for Beijing she dedicated the campaign to her grandfather Tom Wilson, who died in April aged 90. "He was a huge inspiration to me, more than he ever knew," she said.