Can GBR’s Mills and Clark deliver a gold medal performance in today’s 470 women’s medal race?
Summer 2010 and Team GB’s Stephen Park was running out of options as to which helm he could team with what crew in his 470 Women’s preparations for London 2012.
He had tried every combination involving Saskia Clark, Pippa Wilson, Sarah Ayton nand Christina Bassadone. Even Sarah Webb and Shirley Robertson were mentioned in dispatches. But he settled on Ayton and Clark, a combination that was making progress, albeit slowly.
Then Ayton dropped a bombshell. She was giving up her career so her husband Nick Dempsey could concentrate on winning a medal at London 2012 so Saskia found herself without a campaign, just 18 months before the Olympic Games.
It was a bad time for Clark because having been at Beijing 2008, she knew full well that a winning Olympic campaign required plenty of planning and preparation.
Time was running out and she had pretty much lost hope. And then among the flurry of phone calls to check more options, there was one with Hannah Mills, a young Welsh sailor who had been racing without much success with Katie Archer and who was champing at the bit for a chance to race at London 2012.
They both headed out to Palma where RYA were holding a training camp and jumped into the boat. From the first outing, the pairing showed promise and people who saw them realised immediately, they were seeing something interesting because their boat speed was exceptional.
In their first regatta the following month, they came 13th then followed it up with an outright win at the next ISAF World Cup regatta at Hyeres. They were a match made in heaven and clearly, meant business.
Remarkably, eighteen months later, after a superbly well organised campaign and a lot of hard work, Mills and Clark have their Olympic medal in the bag, with the big hoorah, the 470 Womens medal race still to complete. They go into that race equal on points with Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie from New Zealand who they identified yonks ago as their main Olympic rivals.
Neither of them can really believe it but refuse to get carried away. They have the bit between their teeth and said it would remain there until the final line was crossed.
“We have got this far and want to close this out,” said Clark.
“We have closed up four points today but every day we have swapped bibs and dots with them. We wanted to be level with them going into the medal race with a chance of gold and that is what we have got. But we will see what Friday brings.”
“We just wanted to sail our own race as well as we could but on the last downwind leg, worked out we needed to be in the top four to be level pegging with the Kiwis. You never know what is going to happen out there – they are really good and I thought they could easily pull back into the top ten.”
It has been a roller coaster four years, Saskia added but the friendship and teamwork between them had been key.
“It is not at all how I thought it would pan out but I’m really proud of the team we have built up with Joe Glanfield. We are not done here but I’m proud to be part of that.
“We need to be having fun and enjoying it and it is a lot easier if you are getting on with each other. I am quite laid back unless I get stubborn and Hannah is a super alert person, quickly on to things and together we work really well.”
Light fluky winds on the Nothe course which deprived Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson of a medal means that nothing was certain.
“No one would go onto that course confident of an outcome. The forecast is for the breeze to go round east but that might change.
“A lot will be dictated by the wind strength. If it windy, it is hard in the 470s to get control of another boat because you accelerate so fast, you can get a split second lead and go clear. We will meet up tomorrow night and get a forecast.
“Jo and Olivia have a good Weymouth record. They have two Sail for Gold wins here and we have two seconds and a third.”
The Kiwi girls described their 18th place as a little stuff up.
“The first race was good and that was followed up by a little stuff up – there had to be one in the regatta and it has left us in a pretty good spot. ” said Aleh.
MEDAL RACE PROGRAMME
1200 – 470 Men
1300 – 470 Women