Byline: By Brian Dick
In many respects Penny Clark is already a winner. Not only has she been granted two years, yes years, paid leave to pursue her hobby, it is a hobby that next month takes her all the way to Beijing where she is one of Britain's brightest Olympic medal hopes.
Born in Birmingham, brought up in Wombourne and a former pupil at King Edward VI College in Stourbridge, the 32-year-old has come a long way since leaving the landlocked Midlands and has developed into one of the best sailors in her class in the world.
Having finished seventh in the world championships and fourth at the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta earlier this year, Clark is at the top of her sport and by her own estimation heads to her first Olympic Games with realistic prospects of a top-three finish.
That has been made possible by the fact her employers, the Royal Navy, consented to two years off from her role as a marine engineer so that she could follow a dream she has harboured since the age of four when her father took her to Himley Hall Sailing Club.
After an early wrangle over sponsorship and the possibility of Clark having to take unpaid leave, the publicity value of one of their number standing on a podium with precious metal hanging around their neck eventually dawned on somebody at HQ and as a result Clark has spent the last 22 months preparing for her date with destiny.
Her class, the Laser Radial, a singlehanded uniform-sized craft, takes place in the coastal city of Qingdao next month and it is one in which she expects to do well.
"There are ten people in our fleet who are capable of medalling and I am definitely one of them," she says. "I competed at the Olympic venue two years ago and came home with a medal because the conditions out there really suited my strengths.
"I am considered something of an expert in light winds because I have a lot of experience in them and it's likely to …