“My teammate is one of my heroes I remember watching her winning her bronze medal in Beijing, I remember watching her at five in the morning in my pyjamas.” From watching Bryony Shaw to competing alongside her in the, Saskia Sills’ journey from rookie windsurfer to World Cup silver medallist has been an enduring tale of determination and belief.
Coming off the back of what Sills herself has called her “best ever season,” the Launceston girl has firmly set her sights on the Olympics. While Tokyo 2020 has come just too soon, Paris 2024 is her ultimate goal.
A ninth placed finish for Sills at the recent World Championships in Italy is the 22-year-old best result in the competition and she says she can hardly believe how well her year has gone after reaching her zenith with the second place at the World Cup Series final in Marseille in June.
“If anyone told me at the start of this year I was going to get a silver medal in the World Cup final and ninth at the World Championships, I would probably laugh and not believe them at all. I’m absolutely over the moon with the result,” Sills said.
Sills’ story aged nine when she begged her parents to let her go windsurfing having watched her older brother – who she calls her hero – in the sport for years previously. Joined by her identical twin sister Imogen, the pair began the sport as a hobby, but it was to turn into a career that would bring both joy and success to the sisters. She now competes alongside Shaw, a woman 13 years her senior, Britain’s first ever women’s medallist in the Olympics, and their most successful female windsurger
“From the moment I was a wind surfer I just remember being in love with it and I still am closely in love with the sport, It’s so great to be out on the water especially with your family and your friends. It’s just amazing.
“My identical twin sister started a year after I started and it just basically became a hobby for us and was something we enjoyed doing as a family.
“Me and my sister would go to the lake at weekends and after school. I was never really that special in school, I was never great at all the normal sports.
“I had good grades but I had to work very hard for it, I wasn’t gifted academically, in drama or art, so wind surfing for me was kind of an escape.”
The reason Sills did not believe her successful 2019 could happen was down the ever improving pack she races against, and a run of disappointing results left her confidence hit and she wondered how she could break into to the top ten. The senior circuit of windsurfing is an extremely competitive group, with experienced racers dominating the medal positions in the Olympic and World competitions it has been difficult for her to place in a position she has been satisfied with.
“I’ve been racing with the [senior professionals] for 6 or 7 years now and I’ve always looked up to them and wanted to be on the start line and racing against them.
“In the last few years I’ve had glimmers of being up there and racing against them. I’ve done an awful lot of work in training and I’ve been full time for a year now since I graduated from University last year.”
It was these results that spurred Sills on to improve her racing and she has fast become a more competitive racers, highlighted with that ninth placed finish, and she has put it all down to her determination and a close evaluation with her coach.
“It hasn’t happened over night, it taken years and years.
“In the Europeans this year I came 17th, and it was very disappointing for me because I was always there in the top ten or 15 then people just passed me and I was in the 20’s so that was disappointing.
“I was so close and yet so far. And then I got my head down again and really evaluated that Championship along with my coach and the team. We worked out where I was going wrong and that was in my decision making.”
With a new outlook and strategy heading forward, the Paris games in five years are a distinct possibility for the Cornishwoman, and she has her eyes on the top prize at the first attempt.
“I want to go to Paris and win a gold medal straight away. It’s very difficult to qualify for the Olympics as only one man and one woman qualifies. I’ve started my campaign for Paris already so that I’m in the best possible shape and position.”
Despite her lofty ambitions, Sills’ career is still very much a family affair and with her brother and sister so often by her side, she aims to add to the family’s extensive medal collection – but insists it is not a competition between her and her sister, a mere “thing we do together.”
“We won six world titles between us and six gold medals, so were always one and two or two and three or one and three [on the podium] but we always train together, we just love doing it together and we love the journey together.
“We have been together competitively and been against each other and we just don’t acknowledge that we we are competing against each other.”
“I don’t ever remember any moment in my whole life thinking I want to beat Imogen, theres not one moment.”
Things are different when it comes to her brother though. While it isn’t possible to compete against her brother is an official capacity, getting one over on Sam in a training race would be just the tonic she needs to top off a sensational year.
“My brother is my hero and I completely adore him. My goal – as well as getting to the Olympics, obviously – is to beat him a race since I have not a managed to do that yet.
“It would be amazing to beat him, but he’s not a normal windsurfer. He’s the best wind surfer ever, so if I beat him it will be with a little bit of luck on my side.”