YCM – Dinner with guest speakers – Saskia Clark and Alexander Ehlen | 12 May 2023


Friday 12th May 2023. One of its series of maritime conferences, Yacht Club de Monaco invited members and racers from the Sports Section to an exceptional evening honouring Saskia Clark, 470 Olympic Champion and Alexander Ehlen, a young Monegasque kiteboarder aiming to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. It was an opportunity to hear about the careers of these two very special speakers, both YCM members.





From failures to success in gold

From her first tacks at the Dabchicks Sailing Club in London on Optimists to her gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Saskia Clark’s journey to success was shaped by failures. Her early days aged 8 were chaotic “I hated it, I cried, I didn’t want to go out on the water. Then I started to get a taste for it, especially when I knew that after each session I could buy a doughnut at the club”. Then in 1992, she watched the Barcelona Olympics, an experience that remained etched in the memory and followed her every step from Optimist to Laser Radial. At 18, questions were swirling around in her mind, “I didn’t know if I was going to make a career of sailing. I needed a Plan B so I went to university before starting work. My boss was a sailor and encouraged me to get back on a boat. And that’s when I turned to the 470”.


Highs and lows

Regatta followed regatta with some promising results and others discouraging: “The Beijing Olympics were the toughest. The pressure was enormous. Wind conditions were very light so I had to weigh as little as possible which meant being on a diet. On top of it all communication was very bad”. Because the discipline requires sailors to gain or lose weight, depending on the race area, fluctuations in weight can be up to as much as 10kg.

During her career, Saskia teamed up with three different helmsmen and it was with Hannah Mills that she launched her second Olympic campaign in London under the eyes of an already won-over public. “We reached the Medal Race. During the first two minutes of that last decisive race, we were in front and then everything changed. We continued sailing knowing we’d lost our chance at gold. It was tough but it was at that moment we decided to channel all our energy into Rio”.

So it was a silver medal that Saskia and Hannah were feted for by an enthusiastic public at home. But that was not enough for the two athletes who developed a spectacular programme for Brazil. The hard work put in left no-one in any doubt of their ambition and they left Rio with gold around their necks: “Hearing your national anthem and stepping up to the podium’s top step is just the best experience. I saw the Barcelona Olympics again in my mind’s eye and all the athletes I idolised. That’s done now! I’ve been there too”.





Story remains to be told

Same passion for the sea but a different discipline for Alexander Ehlen who took the audience back over his career path to date at YCM. “I started on J/24 at the time then Laser Pico before switching to J/70 then a catamaran”. It was during a course paid for by his mother that he discovered kiteboarding. “I adore that feeling of freedom you get with this sport! Using wind power and going super-fast over the water. We average 20 to 30 knots with peak speeds of 40 knots,” says the young man who started this sport at 16. “After just two weeks of kiteboarding I was already entering my first competition”. Alexander has climbed his way step by step to the top level and after only seven years of kite foiling has become a champion.


Totally immersed in his preparations to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics, Alexander chose to divide his time between the Principality and Hyères. “I moved to Hyères in high school and remember that I did everything by bike. I was going training by bike, towing a small trailer with my wing and kiteboard on it”.

With the baccalaureate in his pocket, Alex decided to get a kiteboarding instructor diploma under his belt as back-up, “you never know what life as an athlete might throw at you”. Clear-eyed, he still had some doubts, “I didn’t know at the time if I wanted to continue or stop. And then I met my coach Max Albarel and little by little my drive came back”. Since then, the number of regattas has increased and then came the announcement that kiteboarding had been admitted to the very select club of Olympic disciplines. Since then, the young Monegasque has been doing everything possible to give his dreams wings: “My dream is to qualify, then a gold medal if possible. I am going all out for it”.

The main objective can be counted in months as the Paris 2024 Olympics approach, with sailing events taking place in Marseille. But to line up on the career-changing start, Alexander must earn his place. After a fine 6th place at the last French Olympic Week, he faces a series of major events, the next one in The Hague in the Netherlands: “I will have to take them on one at a time and remain focused on the main goal. Objectively, I know I have the means to qualify. I have to keep sailing cleanly,” concedes the man who could be the one to fly the Monaco flag the highest.