Mills' Latest Chance 

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Hannah Mills came through the ranks as one of Britain’s most promising young talents and when, with Katrina Hughes, the pair won 470 Junior (Under 22) World and European crowns, it just seemed a matter of time before senior Olympic Classes success beckoned.

However, Mills will be the first person to tell you even the best laid plans don’t always work out how you imagined them and, after an amicable split with Hughes in June 2009, Cardiff-raised Mills endured 18 months of uncertainty as she bid to find a compatible crew to keep her 2012 dreams intact.  

From the outside it looked as though those dreams were fading fast as she struggled to find the perfect match while Penny Clark, now sailing with Hughes, and Saskia Clark, with firstly Pippa Wilson and then Sarah Ayton, established themselves as Britain’s leading 470 teams.  

But despite the unpromising circumstances the 23-year-old, still the only Brit to have ever won the Optimist Girls’ World Championship in 2003 having become the first girl to win the British national title a year earlier, refused to accept that 2012 was beyond her grasp.  

And when Ayton announced her retirement from sailing in February, Mills received the call from Saskia Clark that has turned her life on its head. Now as she enters into the critical year for 2012 selections as Clark’s helm, Mills admits she can’t quite believe what has happened.  

“I am more excited about sailing now than I think I have ever been. It has been a pretty awful couple of years; I knew I had the potential to do well in the right circumstances but it was just finding the right person to do that with. Whatever was going on I never wanted to think 2012 was unobtainable. I knew it was going to take something pretty special to get there but I couldn’t let myself think I had no chance because if I did, why was I carrying on?  

“Kat and I got on really well but when we split we had been training full-time for a couple of months and things were pretty difficult sailing-wise. I had deferred my university course at Bristol to focus on sailing but, whether we were too young or were not mature enough, Kat and I were struggling to know where we fitted in. She got the opportunity to go and sail with Penny Clark, an experienced Olympian, and she wanted to take it, which I understood.   

“I sailed with a few crews and last autumn I teamed up with Katie Archer, who had previously been trying out for the Match Racing and was having a go in the Laser Radial. She had not sailed a 470 before or done much crewing but she was a really good sailor and in the short time we were together we made some great progress.  

“However when Saskia called saying she wanted to sail with me I knew that is what I had to do. 2012 is never going to happen again and although Katie was obviously disappointed she was amazing and understood why I wanted to sail with Saskia. If we had had an extra year in the boat we would have been that much closer to where we needed to be and I genuinely believe we had potential. But at this time, sailing with Saskia was the best option for me.”  

Since the Clark/Mills partnership was officially unveiled the pair have been splitting their time between Palma and Weymouth, becoming familiar with each other’s sailing techniques and knowledge and figuring out where the main areas for immediate attention lay.  

Mills said the pair had been really pleased with their initial speed in eight knots and under, and felt they sailed the boat well downwind, with her steering in the waves and Saskia flying the kite. Nailing their communication around the racetrack now becomes a focus.  

Because she never gave up on her 2012 dream, Mills stayed on top of her physical fitness as “it was a controllable I could get on with whatever else was going on” while her partnership with Archer meant she has been able to hit the ground running with Clark with regards to her sailing fitness.  

She admits she has already learned so much sailing with two-time World Championship medallist Clark, who went to Beijing 2008 with Christina Bassadone.  

“Saskia is exceptionally good around the boat and her technique upwind and downwind is great. Off the water she has been through an Olympic campaign so knows what it is all about but she has also sailed with some pretty amazing people herself so hopefully I can learn from them through her. We did not feel off the pace at all when we started sailing.”  

The pair’s first competitive outing together will come in Palma in April, followed by Hyeres before the 2012 selection buzz really starts to ramp up from June onwards.  

Mills admits there were times in the past two years she considered taking a year out of sailing to go back to university to complete her degree. But the nagging ‘What if?’ wouldn’t quite let her do that. Now she is glad she stuck it out.  

“Some days I was not sure what I was doing one day to the next but I needed to make sure I was still learning about the 470 and Olympic sailing and getting better and improving personally so I did not get left even further behind. That is what kept me going.  

“I cannot explain what a relief it is to be in this position now. The early signs with Saskia have been encouraging and our only obstacle now is fine-tuning our partnership before the selection period. I believe we both have the ability, it is a case of finding what works best for us and making it come good at the right time. I firmly believe we can do it.”  

 

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