November 01, 2015
Olympic hopeful Hannah Mills is on the crest of a wave
ABU DHABI // A family holiday to the picturesque county of Cornwall on England’s south-west tip changed the life of Hannah Mills forever.
It was there she discovered her love of sailing age eight. “I loved to do sports when I was young,” she says. “We were on a family holiday and went sailing. I just loved it. And there, you can say, life began to change for me.
“After the family holidays I spoke to my parents and said that I would love to just carry on with sailing. Thereafter I started racing, and then went through the British system of junior and youth sailing. Since then, it has been an amazing journey for me.”
And what a journey it has been. Among Mills’s many achievements in the sport, the Briton is a world champion and an Olympic silver medallist. She hopes to go one better at the Games in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Born in Cardiff, Wales, on February 29, Mills was voted the UK Young Sailor of the Year and the BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2002.
Her success, like most athletes to who taste it, was achieved through hard work and no small amount of sacrifice. In pursuit of her Olympic dream, which resulted in a silver medal in the women’s 470 at the London 2012 Games, Mills had to put her studies on hold, an impasse that still exists to this day, although she says she has no regrets.
“I deferred my third-year studies from university to go full time sailing to try and qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, which I did,” she said. “I tried to go back to the university, but having won the silver medal I just haven’t been able to get back. And now I’m not sure if I ever will.”
In September, Mills, 27, along with her crew Saskia Clark, 36, who paired with her to win silver at London 2012, were selected to represent the British sailing team at the Rio Games next year. They hope to go one better than London and be standing on the top step of the podium next summer.
“We are desperate to try and win gold at Rio. Obviously it’s not going to be easy for anyone. We will prepare as best we can to win,” said Mills, who first teamed up with Clark in 2011.
As part of their preparation for the Olympics in 10 months’ time, the pair have already made five trips to the Brazilian city and will travel for the Olympic test event in the summer. Their busy schedule will also see them travel to Rio in December and January, as well as take part in a world championship event at Buenos Aires in Argentina in February.
Mills spent just 18 months with Clark before the London Olympics. For Rio, they will have been in training together for five-and-a-half years.
“We know each other better,” Mills said. “And before London, it was just a rush to get selected and to get ready for the Olympics. You had to get ready really fast. Now we have had more time and that makes a big difference. We made the partnership stronger.
“We have had a great 2015 season. We came second at the world championships a couple of weeks ago. We were a bit disappointed not to win, but yes, we are moving in the right direction.”
Clark is the senior pro and Rio will be her third Olympic Games after Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Before teaming with Mills to win Olympic silver in London the pair won the 470 World Championships in Barcelona and have since added a bronze in Santander (2014) and silver in Haifa (2015), both times finishing behind the Austrian pair of Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar.
Clark said: “When we first got together, Han was an up-and-coming young star of sailing. I had the experience of an Olympics already and I could really offer her a helping hand.
“The Olympics is different to any other events we do during a calendar season. The help, perhaps, may have been valuable to her. She has progressed and I guess she’s still growing up.
“We have changed the styles and the responsibilities to get our strengths to a new level and covering our weaknesses. At this point of time we are a much stronger team than we were at the London Games.”
Mills and Clark have been in Abu Dhabi for the first time to take part in the 2015 ISAF Sailing World Cup Final along the Corniche Breakwater, winning the women’s 470 Class ahead of Vadlau and Ogar yesterday. Sailing in the capital had left quite an impression on Mills.
“It’s really good racing here,” she said. “We had great breeze, obviously hot and sunny as always it seems, and close racing in the fleet.
“We have already had a great time in our first visit to Abu Dhabi. The weather has been amazing and the place is really, really cool. The city has so much to offer and we’ll try to do as much as we can.”