First published on Yachts and Yachting
Alison Young has spent the last hour pedalling hard on an exercise bike in a ‘heat lab’ – a small room heated to a uncomfortable temperature, aiming to mimic the uncomfortable temperatures she will encounter in Japan next summer, when she competes in the Olympic games in the Laser Radial.
“It’s a privilege,” she says breezily afterwards. “Training like this is my normal. Somebody else might find it bizarre, but it’s what I’ve done for over a decade.”
Young, aged 32, will be going to her third Olympics, having finished fifth at Weymouth and eighth in Rio.
Her aim for Japan? “It’s less about a medal and more about trying to get the best out of myself. Each Games is different, each venue throws up different challenges.”
She started out aged nine, crewing in GP14s at Trimpley Sailing Club in the Severn Valley, soon moving to an Optimist.
“Trimpley was great, very family oriented. It is not a massive club and we were just racing round the lake.
“I was very fortunate that my parents starting taking me on the Midlands Oppie circuit, going to a different club each month, and it grew from there.
“They sacrificed a lot of their weekends to make that possible.”
She won a place in the national Optimist squad, before moving to Toppers aged 14 and then to the Laser Radial aged 16.
Two years later she announced her arrival when she was third at the ISAF Youth Worlds.
Since then Young has known highs, but she has seen the other side of elite competition too, no more so than in 2016, when she became Laser Radial world champion but then broke her ankle, two months before the Rio Olympics.
A month out from the Games, she couldn’t walk.
She made it to the startline and showed her class by winning her last two races, but finished eighth overall.
Young was brutal in her post-regatta assessment, refusing to offer excuses and dismayed that she hadn’t been able to repay her physio team with a better result.
Read any interview with Young and you’ll find her paying tribute to those in the background, be it her parents or the staff of the British Sailing Team.
In conversation with Yachts & Yachting she is perhaps more softly spoken and self-deprecating than one might expect for a professional athlete used to high-level competition.
But Young’s results speak for her instinct on the water.
In 2018 she won the Miami World Cup event, while this past year she has taken bronze at the Laser Radial worlds, then bronze at the World Cup in Enoshima and she was fourth at the Olympic test event.
The fight for gold in Japan will go to the wire, but Young’s consistency suggests she is in the form of her life.
“The thing that excites me most about the next few months, before the Games, is having the chance to work with the fantastic support staff on the British Sailing Team, the physiologists and the coaches,” she says, returning to a theme.
Her countdown to Enoshima includes time training in Vilamoura, Portugal, with the other Team GB sailors, enjoying rolling Atlantic conditions similar to the rolling Pacific conditions of Enoshima.
From there it’s onto Gran Canaria for more training and then the Laser Radial worlds in Melbourne in February.
She has three different Lasers – one in the UK, one in Europe and one in Japan.
“It is sometimes a bit of a logistical programme to make sure you have the right kit in the right country.
“The Laser is one of the cheaper classes to campaign, but we are very fortunate that we’ve got UK Sport and National Lottery funding, which funds the day to day activities and the coaching.”
Should the Laser remain an Olympic class?
“Yes I think so. It has a massive geographical spread and is an accessible class in developing nations. Changing the class would be detrimental to the development of Olympic sailing in those nations. It would take a long time for them to catch up.”
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