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Double Olympic Sailor Sarah Ayton ends her quest for London gold
Sailing's double Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton has today announced she is to retire from the sport with immediate effect, thus ending her quest for an historic third Olympic title at the London 2012 Games.
The 30-year-old Ayton, who is married to Olympic bronze medal-winning windsurfer Nick Dempsey, began her 2012 campaign in earnest in April 2010, nine months after giving birth to the couple's first son Thomas, and has been sailing for Skandia Team GBR in the two-person 470 class with Beijing Olympian Saskia Clark.
Ayton, who claimed Olympic glory in the Yngling class in Athens with Shirley Robertson and Sarah Webb, and again in Beijing with Webb and Pippa Wilson, was striving to become the first British woman to win three consecutive Olympic golds at her home Games in London.
But for Ayton, renowned for her dedication and 'no compromise' approach in her previous two medal-winning campaigns, the demands of Olympic classes sailing and motherhood have proved a relentless juggling act which left her drained and unhappy.
"To succeed at the highest level as an Olympic athlete you ultimately have to be pretty single-minded, and that's something that just doesn't sit happily when you're a mum as well," Ayton explained.
"Winning gold is what Olympic sailing is all about, so working towards 2012 and feeling like I can't give it my full attention has made me question why I am doing it, especially when it involves missing out on important time with Thomas.
"Full engagement is what makes the difference between being average and being great, in Olympic sport or whatever aspect of life. I am really looking forward to focusing my time and energy on Thomas, who's now 19 months old and into everything, and to supporting Nick, who is working harder than ever on his own Olympic campaign, so that he has the best possible chance of winning gold in 2012.
"My sailing career has always been about the Olympics and I remain passionate and excited about London 2012, so I hope there will be lots of other ways to remain involved over the next 18 months in the build up."
"I've really enjoyed sailing with Saskia Clark, who's a fantastic talent," Ayton continued.
"I'm upset to be letting her down, but I know she's got 2012 firmly in her sights and is looking carefully at her options. I owe both Saskia and our coach Joe Glanfield huge thanks for the time and effort they have put into our programme.
"There are so many people who have helped me over my 12 years of Olympic sailing, from the people I've sailed with and been coached by, to the RYA and all the experts within Skandia Team GBR.
"I'd like to thank my sponsors for this cycle, Volvo Car UK, QuIC Financial Technologies, Paynes Hicks Beach and Three60 Sports Management, Paul Brotherton for his advice and guidance, and Mirabaud, Highland Heritage and Lynx for their backing in the past.
"I am grateful to them all for their support, and of course I'm most thankful to my family for their patience and the sacrifices they've made to help me be the best I can be."
Ayton concluded: "London 2012 will be an amazing thing for our country - literally a once in a lifetime event which will excite and inspire, and I hope everyone will get behind it. Although I won't be there competing, I really hope that I can be involved in one way or another."
RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park said: "It's disappointing to be losing someone of Sarah's calibre and track record from our programme, especially at this stage of the cycle when she and Saskia had been progressing well towards their goals with our help and support.
"As Sarah knows only too well, a successful Olympic campaign is a full-time commitment requiring absolute dedication - there can be no half measures. Ultimately this decision is a personal one that only she can make, and it's an understandable one in light of her family situation.
"We're all sorry to see her hang up her sailing boots, but with London 2012 drawing ever closer I'm sure her knowledge and expertise will be put to good use off the water."
Read more of Sarah's thoughts in her final campaign blog.
Photo: Sarah Ayton in action in the 470 class with Saskia Clark. Credit Richard Langdon/Skandia Team GBR