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Emma Wilson: taking on the mantle of two-time Olympian mum

Written by 13th July 2021 Featured-post, Tokyo 2020

First published on Yachts and Yachting

 

Emma Wilson is recalling the moment she found out she had been selected for the Olympics.

“It was the day after the test event in Enoshima. I was having breakfast and Ian Walker came up and said, ‘Meeting in 10 minutes’. I thought, ‘Oh God, what have I done wrong?’’’

“It is surreal,” says the 20-year‑old today, reflecting on her new status as an imminent Olympian. “It’s been my dream for so long.”

Emma is the daughter of Penny Wilson, who represented Britain in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics at Barcelona and Atlanta.

“It’s pretty cool,” Emma says. “I try to use it to my advantage. She has lots of knowledge that can help me.

“She’s been through the whole thing and she understands that you have good and bad days. Most of the time she’s just my mum.”

Emma Wilson

Wilson won her place after a three-way selection battle with Saskia Sills and Bryony Shaw, who won bronze at the Beijing games in 2008.

“She has been the top person for so long and I never thought I’d be in this position,” says Wilson, somewhat shyly.

Wilson, however, has been collecting big titles since her youth, her first at the age of 12 when she won the U15 Techno 293 World Championship.

Her move to Olympic-class windsurfer the RS:X came early, but she turned heads at her first big outing when she won the RS:X Youth Worlds title in 2014 in Clearwater, Canada – a moment she describes today as “massive”.

“I’d only just moved into the class and I wasn’t really expecting to win.

“It was just me and my brother [aged 22, also a windsurfer].

“It was my third time away without my mum and I was more worried about staying with the team than the racing. I still can’t believe I won – I did it on the last race.”

In between, she got a taste of senior level – something she is always grateful for.

“We went to the Santander Worlds in 2014. I was 15 and didn’t know what to expect. It was the hardest competition I’ve ever done.

“I was always about fifth from the back. You learn so much more in that situation than being in your age group and doing well all the time. The women’s level was so much higher.

“Then you go back to youth level and you know how to get off the start line…you know so many things.

“It’s important to do age group stuff as well – but just keep all the learning channels going.”

Photo by Karl Bridgeman/Getty Images for British Olympic Association

The following year she took that experience and narrowly missed out on the Youth Worlds title to future Rio 2016 bronze medallist Stefania Elfutina of Russia.

She came back to win consecutive Youth Worlds golds in 2016 and 2017.

“I am not very good at sailing,” she says. “I started in an Oppie, but I was always too big and kept banging my head on the boom.”

As we speak she’s been out on the water in Vilamoura, Portugal, with the rest of the British Sailing Team preparing for Tokyo.

“We’ve had 25 knots and a bit of swimming,” she reports. “When it’s gusty it’s OK, but an average of 25 is pretty hard.

“It’s a 30-minute race and you’re at your limit for the whole time. Then you get a 10-minute break and another two races.

“In the light winds it’s so physical because of the pumping. If it’s windy you’re trying to control a big sail. If you’re 60kg, it’s not the easiest task. All the girls are around that [weight]. I do two or three sessions a week in the gym but a lot more on the water. The best training is on the water. And it’s the most fun.”

The waves at the Olympic venue of Enoshima, she says, can be “massive”. “You have to expect anything. It was pretty windy for the World Cup, but then the next time we were there it was very calm.

“It’s going to be tough, but I will put everything into it and see what happens.”

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