Interview with Alison Young

(Sailing Energy | Abu Dhabi 2015)

How old were you when you started sailing? About 9 at Trimpley Sailing Club

How did you first get involved with sailing? My dad got some sailing lessons for his birthday when I was young and that was how we got into it.

What was your first boat? Optimist

Why did you first decide to sail the Laser Radial? And what has kept you sailing it since? I started in the Laser Radial because it was the youth boat in the UK. I enjoy the physical and mental challenge of racing against other sailors in a one design boat.

What was the first Laser World Championship in which you competed? 2005 Laser Radial Worlds in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Even though it was long ago, what did you take away from that first experience? Well it was a long time ago, I remember it being a lot more fun than being sat in lectures at university.

In 2005, you placed 3rd at the ISAF Youth Worlds, was that your first podium at an international Laser regatta? Yes!

Were there any fellow sailors you competed against then that you still see on the race courses today? There are a few sailors from the ISAF Youth Worlds that I’ve continued to race against, Paige Railey and Xu Lijia also medalled at those Youth Worlds.

Did you grow up sailing around or with seasoned Laser sailor, Nick Thompson? Or did you just cross paths as you got older on the UK Sailing Team? Nick had moved out of the Radial before I moved into the class, I know him from being on the British Sailing Team. 

When you were getting involved in sailing the Laser Radial, were there any specific sailors you looked up to or strived to be like some day? When I moved into the Radial I just wanted to be as good as Colette Blair and Charlotte Dobson who were a year older and medalled at Class and ISAF Youth Worlds.

Do you think you’ve surpassed or achieved those early goals? Well I never medalled at a Class Youth Worlds…

Fast forward a few years, you won the 2012 ISAF World Cup then competed in the London Summer Olympics and placed 5th. What was it like placing top 5 in your first Olympics? It was alright, I didn’t race especially badly, I just wasn’t a good enough competitor to medal.

How did it feel qualifying for and competing in the Olympics in your home country? Exactly the same as competing in Rio, blown away to be selected and a privilege to be part of the British Sailing Team at the Olympics.

Moving into 2016, you claimed the title at the Laser Radial World Championships in Mexico, and continued on to Rio where you placed 8th. How did your Olympic experiences differ or compare? London, everything was new. To get selected was in a way unexpected as I’d been the underdog to Charlotte Dobson in the British Trials and I was just carrying momentum through a good 18 months.

The 2016 cycle was a lot more intense and I fried my brains before I got to the start line in Rio. Given the amount of second chances the British Sailing Team had given me over the 4-year cycle, I was gutted my result didn’t better reflect their support.

Last year at Laser Radial World Championships in Medemblik, you had some shining moments, but overall it was a tough regatta for you, finishing 33rd. What challenges did you face at the 2017 Worlds? It’s racing, sometimes you make mistakes, sometimes you’re not good enough. At the 2017 Worlds I was both. In 2017 I lost a bit of direction, but you stop, reflect, and build a plan forwards.

As a very experienced competitor, that Worlds did not stop you and you kicked off 2018 with a bang, claiming gold at 2018 World Cup Miami. What are your goals for 2018, with Aarhus Sailing World Championships on the horizon? In 2018, the World Championships in Aarhus are the goal event for the season to qualify the nation for the Olympics. 

A two-time Olympian, with your eye on a third, what are your strengths that you plan to enhance and what areas do you need to improve to qualify for Tokyo 2020? The mental side is my biggest weakness, once I get a handle on that I’ll be able to find some strengths.

What do you enjoy doing when you need a break from sailing? Cycling, slack-lining, playing Connect 4.

Do you have any hobbies outside of sailing that help you better yourself as a sailor? Not sure any of the above make me a better sailor, they just stop me obsessing with sailing.

You attained a degree in Civil Engineering, do you think you will ever pursue work in that industry? Hope not!