Sam Sills is well on his way to making his Olympic dream come true after smashing the competition at the first 2024 preparation event in Marseille writes Alec McQuarrie.
The two-time windsurfing world champion narrowly missed out on qualification to Tokyo, with only one spot up for grabs in the RS:X event.
But with support from the most decorated men’s Olympic windsurfer of all time, Nick Dempsey – also his new coach – Sills is in a strong position to represent Team GB in the new IQFoil class in two years’ time.
With scorching heat and erratic Mediterranean wind to contend with, the 29-year-old raced with a calm consistency to win this month’s Olympic preparation regatta.
Sills said: “It’s a really difficult venue. The wind is very strange. It rarely ever does what it’s predicted to do and it’s very hot - unbearable really if you’re not on top of it.”
— British Sailing Team (@BritishSailing) September 6, 2022
And while the conditions in Marseille are challenging, Sills relishes racing in demanding circumstances, as a 200km nine hour race around Lanzarote this winter proved.
“I’ve never felt fear of actually going to die,” he said. “But I remember waking up in the morning and it was dark, fully black and it was so windy. All you could hear was the wind whistling in the trees.
“I’ve felt nerves in the past, like butterflies in your stomach, but I’ve never really felt a strong fear of actual danger and this was the first time I’d actually experienced it.
“There was a certain point where it was no longer a race anymore. It was just trying to get back to the harbour.
“It was so windy, such huge waves. You could park a car in between them and you wouldn’t be able to see over the top of it. And giant cliffs with no beach and rocks everywhere.
“It was amazing. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It was just such a challenge.”
— British Sailing Team (@BritishSailing) September 5, 2022
With the new IQFoil class making its debut at Paris 2024, competitors can reach speeds of over 55km. This increases the risk of serious injury but Sills wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sills said: “I’m probably addicted to it. If I don’t do it, I really miss it and I get itchy to go and do it. I really like having a big project, a big challenge.
“It’s all about problem solving. Every day you go on the water it’s always so different and it’s always a bit of an adventure.”
And there is a good chance Sills won’t be the only member of his family competing for Team GB, with younger twin sisters Saskia and Imogen also part of the British Sailing team.
“Our family has always been there for all of us,” said Sills. “I think they’re super proud of us.
“They were the ones supporting us from a very young age and to give up so many weekends to take us to the lake, it was a big commitment.
“I’m sure my mum would’ve loved to have gone shopping or to the beach!”
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