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GOLDEN SHIRL'S BOAT COUTURE; Olympic star shines as she ditches sailing gear to go for glam.

Byline: By Maria Croce

FOR someone with two priceless Olympic gold medals in her handbag, Scots sailor Shirley Robertson is surprisingly relaxed about her success.

Children rush up asking to see the medals and she happily lets them pose for pictures with the heavy medallions around their necks.

She's got the gold from leading a three-woman sailing team in Athens to add to her triumph as a solo competitor at the Sydney games in 2000.

Fans keep asking her about her Athens gold - but she's happy to show both medals.

Shirley laughed: 'Everyone wants to see it and have their picture taken with it. Kids love it and want to try it on. It's great fun.

I'm not precious about it all. There aren't that many Olympic gold medals about. Everyone comments on how heavy it is.'

Since becoming the second female sailor to win two Olympic golds, Shirley's not come back down to earth - and she continued her run of fun as she modelled glamorous evening wear for the Record.

She said: 'There's been so much more public interest this time than in Sydney. I think it's because they watched it in real time - it wasn't happening in the middle of the night. I haven't stopped since we got back.'

And even though she had already achieved a gold, second time around was just as sweet a success.

Shirley explained: 'I tried so hard for such a long time to win the first gold, so it was an amazing sense of relief. You can see from the pictures the smile on my face. It was such an incredible mixture of emotions it's hard to explain. All of a sudden the weight of all that training and heartache melts away.

'It felt different this time because I was sharing it with other people. In a way it was a more special experience to have gone through a tough few years and managing to pull it off so convincingly in the end.'

In Greece, Shirley sailed to victory in the Yngling class with teammates Sarah Ayton, 24, and Sarah Webb, 27, in a boat called Legally Blonde. The women were nicknamed Three Blondes in a Boat.

She laughed: 'We thought the nickname was really funny. In sport you're only judged by your results - it doesn't matter what you look like as long as you win. We just happened to be blonde, but it didn't make any difference. We were one of the favourites going into the event.

'It did have its uses, though. If we had to borrow tools we'd send Sarah Ayton, the small blonde one, to find a man to help.'

Although now 36, Shirley feels at her sailing peak.

She said: 'I'm better at what I do now than I was at the beginning. You gain other things with age - you become more relaxed, more confident, less stressed.

'I always feel I'm getting better and better as a sailor. If I'd known back in Sydney what I know now I think I'd have sailed better there.

'I'm a bit saggier and wrinklier than I used to be, though. I'm getting older. We're outside 10 hours a day in sunshine, 300 days of the year and it takes its toll, although the sun damage was probably done when we were kids. I'm much more careful now than I used to be with sunscreen.

'But sailing is more mentally than physically demanding - I can still continue.'

She believes she'll still be on top form to compete at the next Olympics and the one after that - even though she'll be 44.

But for now, Dundee-born Shirley is beginning to think of her next challenge, whether that's another gold, a baby or both.

She's currently discussing the possibility of children with her husband, yacht broker Jamie Boag. The couple now live on the Isle of Wight.

She said: 'We've started talking about the possibility of a family. We'll see what happens. I'll always continue sailing. I haven't shut the door on Olympic sailing at all. I'll wait until the spring to make decisions.

'I always imagined myself with children, but that's very different to getting on with it and doing it. Nobody knows if it will happen.

'I need some kind of focus and challenge in my life - but whatever form that takes is irrelevant. I won't always be Olympic sailing and I'll need challenges.

'What I enjoy about sailing is having a project and goal that you work hard towards. As long as I have something in my life that interests and focuses me then I'd be happy.'BUT even when she gives up competitive sailing, Shirley will continue to enjoy it as a hobby. She said: 'I love going cruising in a small boat with my husband and getting away from everyone, switching the phones off and discovering new places. I love the freedom.

'If I have children I wouldn't force them to do anything because it's not for everyone, but I hope they would enjoy sailing.

'I'd like to see everyone get the chance to sail and enjoy the water. A lot of people think it's inaccessible, but it would be nice to introduce more people to sailing.

'I've just been to St Tropez and there were boats there worth millions. But at the other end you've got your tiny wooden boat on a reservoir somewhere. One of my team, Sarah Ayton, learned to sail by paying 50 pence to rent a boat every day.'

Although she's dedicated so much of her life to sailing, she doesn't see it as a sacrifice.

Shirley explained: 'I see it as an opportunity of doing something I love doing, to a level I wanted to do it at. It's hard to see it as a sacrifice.'

But could she juggle family and sailing? She said: 'Lots of other people do it in other occupations, they manage to achieve a lot and run a family. Until you have children it's difficult to make that sweeping judgment of whether you can have it all.

It depends on a lot of things, including personal circumstances and partner. It's very hard, but it's certainly possible.

'The thought at the moment of going back into training and trying to win another gold in Beijing - I couldn't bear it.

'But I know that feeling will pass. I'm sure by spring I'll be keen to do competitive sailing again.'

# Shirley Robertson stayed on the 'women only' floor at London Hilton on Park Lane, which offers added security, a lighter room service menu, soft decor, and a powerful in-room hair dryer. Prices start at pounds 269 per night. For reservations please phone 0207 493 8000. She was photographed in the hotel's Zeta Bar - one of London's most stylish cocktail bars.

TICKLED PINK: Pink tie dress, by Gharani Strok for Debenhams, pounds 70

WATER STUNNER: Purple dress, by Debut at Debenhams, pounds 100

SO CHIC: Black dress, by Maria Grachvogel at Debenhams, pounds 120

BLACK BEAUTY: Black wool coat, by Antoni Alison, pounds 55; black bustier, by Pearce Fonda, pounds 80, both Debenhams

BOOTYLICIOUS: Purple top, by Autograph at Marks & Spencer, pounds 49; black trousers, pounds 35, and purple knee length boots, pounds 79, both by Marks & Spencer#All jewellery by Claire's accessories




BLONDE AMBITION:; Shirley, centre, with fellow Olympic gold winners Sarah Webb, left, and Sarah Ayton
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 9, 2004
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