Saskia Tidey was 23 when she faced a decision that she admits was “the hardest and probably one of the most controversial things I’ll ever do in my life”.
Tidey, born and raised in Dun Laoghaire by an Irish mother and English father, had represented Ireland in the 49erFX at the Rio Olympics, finishing 12th.
Following the Games, however, she found herself in a quandary. Her helm, Andrea Brewster, had decided to become a coach, and the Irish sailing team held nobody else suitable for Tidey to partner with.
“For such a small country, Ireland is impressive in most sporting disciplines and I had a fantastic foundation with the Irish Sailing Association,” she says.
“We just struggle with numbers coming through the system, especially female helms. There really wasn’t an opportunity for me going forward in Ireland where I felt I could reach the level of performance I needed to medal.”
Tidey decided her sailing future lay across the Irish Sea, where her Sussex-born father meant she was eligible.
There was no suggestion that the British Sailing Team had made an approach and the Irish Sailing Association called her decision ‘regrettable’, while Tidey expressed her personal dilemna in the press at the time.
Four years on, having been selected with helm Charlotte Dobson to represent Great Britain at the Tokyo Games, she says that for her career “it was the best thing I could have done”.
“The way I see it, my mum is Irish and I feel like I’ve represented her side of the family, and then I had the opportunity to represent my father’s side of the family,” she says.
“I think that’s a pretty unique thing to be able to do – to say you can fly the flag for both sides of the family.”
Growing up as “a sporty girl” in a sporty family, Tidey was representing Ireland at netball aged 13 and didn’t consider sailing until it caught her eye while watching the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Her brother-in-law took her out on a Laser, but it was a meeting with one of the Irish Finn sailors, after the Beijing Games, that truly inspired her.
“He was the first professsional athlete I’d met and he just seemed like such an impressive person, so encouraging and so human, that I thought: ‘Well, if I work hard enough I can do this’.”
Deciding that they want to go to the Olympics and “bring home a medal one day” is not a decision every 13-year-old makes with conviction, but Tidey, hugely modest and approachable in person, clearly has ambition in spades, as well as a rare ability to assess her own strengths.
“From the start I’ve had to be quite smart about what path I go down, what class I sail in. I’m 6ft 2in, so physically I was perfect for crewing and that also gave me a position to learn in and be with someone more experienced.”
Just eight years after taking up sailing, she was on the startline at Rio. “It’s been been quick and intense and it’s been great!”
Tidey’s height and athletic build are perfect for the rolling conditions and higher winds of Enoshima, where maximum leverage will be key.
Charlotte Dobson, helm of their 49erFX partnership, calls Tidey “an absolute weapon”.
The pair competed against each other in Rio but didn’t meet properly until they partnered three years ago.
Tidey says: “Charlotte is someone who I grew up reading about as being one of GB’s greats and to be sailing with her has been incredible.
“Now, it’s amazing, she’s one of the most important people in my life and it’s been a really special journey.
“What we do is so intimate. Being in a sailing partnership, you take on a lot more than you’d ever imagine, especially in comparison to a desk job where you have a set amount of hours and you can close the door on each other and go home.
“Charlotte and I live in each other’s pockets. Of course there’s times when it’s hard because you’re both trying everything you can to be better for each other.
“Charlotte comes with so much experience from her own sailing and she’s had to take on the first two years of helping me find my way and be part of the team.
“Now we’re at a point in my sailing where we can happily split the roles 50/50 and trust each other.
“There’s no one else I can ever imagine going into battle with in Japan other than Charlotte and I think that’s a really unique place to be. It’s cool.”
At the Worlds in February this year, while vying with the Spanish for gold in the medal race, an unlucky capsize during a spinnaker hoist put them back to silver, but their form is clear. They and the Spanish were well ahead of the rest of the fleet.
Talking amid a series of sponsorship commitments at the RYA Dinghy Show in March 2020, before the Covid-19 crisis put the Olympics back a year to the summer of 2021, Tidey reflected on her journey thus far: “I remember going to the ISAF Youth Worlds in Brazil in 2009 [a year after taking up the sport]. That was my first ever goal in competitive sailing and after that I knew I wanted to be back there for the Rio Games.
“For me, it was just trying to make the that dream come alive. Now, everything’s in for Japan.”
First published on Yachts and Yachting
For more sailing content visit www.yachtsandyachting.co.uk