Sailing with friends more important to Paris hopeful Heathcote than extending family tradition

·4-min read
The British Sailing Team are the most successful national Olympic sailing team of all time and will proudly fly the flag for Great Britain at Paris 2024 (© Sailing Energy / Princesa Sofía Mallorca)

By Tum Balogun

It wasn’t a desire to continue a family tradition that spurred sailing prodigy Vita Heathcote into taking up the sport but instead the love of childhood pursuits with her closest friends.

The Lymington native is the niece of double Olympic silver medallist Nick Rogers, while in 2006 her dad, George, completed the extreme task of ascending up the Nile in nothing more than a Zapcat - a small powerboat.

So, she inevitably enjoyed early exposure to sailing, giving the 21-year-old an elite education in her field. However, the idea of making a career of it had not crossed Heathcote's mind until 2019, she simply wanted to enjoy herself with best friend Milly Boyle.

Now, with the race to Paris 2024 hotting up, all fun and games are in the rear-view instead replaced by a steely determination to make Olympic dreams a reality.

Heathcote spent years competing in various vessels including the single-handed optimist and the double-handed women’s 420 and has now shifted her focus to the mixed 470 which she sails with partner Ryan Orr.

It was victory in the 420 World Championships in 2019 - a double act with Boyle - that convinced Heathcote that she had what it took to succeed at the highest level, while her eyes were opened to the demands of Olympic class sailing weeks later when she and Orr joined forces to make up the team dubbed ‘Ryvita’.

“The social scene was a big part of it,” she said of her partnership with Boyle ahead of this autumn’s World and European Championships.

“It was so much fun, we just had an epic time, and we also did really well.

“I didn’t really think I wanted to have a career in sailing until winning the World Championships and then I thought on my year out, ‘why don’t I try Olympic sailing for a bit?’

“The 470 is flat out and that’s something I don’t think I quite realised when I started campaigning, how relentless it is.

“That’s the biggest challenge for me and for anyone, that you have to be thinking about your campaign 24/7 - always thinking what’s the next thing I can do to be better and get one over my competition?”

Despite that shock to the system Heathcote and Orr began their partnership with an impressive second place at the 2019 Junior European Championships before finishing eighth at the Worlds two years later.

They were also able to claim third spot at last year’s senior Europeans which has put the duo in the mix for Team GB sailing selection for Paris, albeit facing competition from Tokyo gold medallist Eilidh McIntyre.

Before the start of next year’s trials however, which commence in April with two events in Palma, Spain and Hyères, France respectively, the pair will compete for top prizes at the European Championships in September, and then the World Championships hosted in Israel a month later.

Heathcote, who, away from the high seas unwinds by undertaking her own mix of gruelling climbing and hiking sessions, admitted evaluation of their Olympic chances remains difficult at this stage of the season.

But she anticipates a hard-fought tussle with fellow 470 British Sailing Team members, Martin Wrigley and McIntyre, who won Olympic gold alongside Hannah Mills last year.

“We're in a squad together and we've had a really good squad dynamic,” said the now Portland-based sailor of their domestic competition.

“We've been working together, both of us progressing up through the fleet and we've both been doing pretty well.

“In the big two events we had this spring, which will be their selectors next year, we were both top 10 at both of them so it’s very close at the moment - it’s pretty hard to know.”

The British Sailing Team are the most successful national Olympic sailing team of all time and will proudly fly the flag for Great Britain at Paris 2024