Jaime Ryan, Carrie Smith and Ashley Stoddart have been selected to sail for Australia at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, with the debutants to join seven sailors already named on the 2016 Olympic Team.
In the women’s 470 class, 21-year olds Ryan and Smith have gone from being fierce rivals to teammates and achieving their Olympic dream together after a serious illness to Smith.
Ryan joins her brother Will on the Team to be the sixth set of siblings selected to date. Will was selected in the men’s 470 alongside London 2012 gold medallist Mathew Belcher last December.
Growing up in Newcastle, Ryan took up sailing at age 15 on Lake Macquarie, with her parents interested in the sport. She’s proud to be able to share this moment with her family.
“I think it’s the coolest thing that I get to be on tour with my brother. He’s been on the circuit for a few years more than me, and has been such a huge help in every part of my sailing over the years, there is no way I would be at this stage without him,” Ryan said.
“Seeing Will get selected definitely gave me the extra drive to get my ticket to be on the plane next to him. Partly because he is always the over achiever in the family, I have to do my best to keep up with him!”
Smith took up the sport when she was just two-years-old. Little did she know almost two decades later she’d be representing her country at the Olympics.
“It is very special to be attending our first Olympic Games. It's something I have dreamt about since I was a little kid receiving my first ever boat,” Smith said.
“I started sailing when I was very young so my aim was to just enjoy it and have fun… I've always enjoyed being out there and competing.”
The pair, who are coached by Olympic gold medallist Nathan Wilmot, were fierce rivals growing up competing in the 420 class but since pairing up two years ago have become a force to be reckoned with.
“Jaime and I were rivals in the youth classes which is very funny. We have good memories and I think that makes us stronger and bond more as a team, it made us better sailors and good friends so something to look back at now and have a laugh,” Smith said.
“There have been some tough times throughout the journey but I just remembered they make you stronger as an athlete and as a person so to keep learning and keep experiencing everything because in the end it will pay off.”
The duo struggled through part of 2014 and 2015 after Fremantle-born Smith was sidelined for around 12 months due to complications from stomach surgery. Not deterred from their Olympic dreams, they focused on training out of the water with theory study, research on venues and reading about strategy and boat set up, ultimately securing a quota spot for Australia in the class at last year’s World Championships.
“It honestly makes me extremely proud that I can look back at that horrible time and see the hard work and determination pay off. It would’ve been easy to give in but here we are and I'm only looking forward. Happy, healthy and sailing hard,” she said.
Stoddart, 22, who competes in the Laser Radial class, is excited to be heading back to the city where she competed at her first world event.
“To be told I will be competing in Rio and as my Olympic debut is extremely exciting and there is so much satisfaction in reaching a goal I have set for a long time now,” she said.
“I competed in the Olympic Test event in 2014, but prior to this I competed at my first ISAF Youth Worlds in 2009, in Buzios. I love the vibe of Brazil and Rio is such a vibrant city.”
Stoddart took up sailing at age seven and was inspired to continue in the sport after watching Australia win gold in the 470 eight years ago in Beijing.
“The Olympic dream for me was lit in 2008 when I watched Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson win their gold medals in the women’s 470 in Beijing for Australia.
“They were young women achieving great things, with the biggest uncontainable smiles on their faces - jumping on the podium and I knew that there was something in me that could aspire for that greatness too.”
By Annie Kearney, AOC, olympics.com.au