Hannah Mills and crew Saskia Clark light a spark of hope in the Women's 470 class
When asked about her Plan B, Hannah Mills struggles. At 23 years old she’s still working on Plan A. Having decided to take time out from her degree in mechanical engineering at Bristol University to compete for a place at the Games, she believes getting to the Olympics would be a major achievement.
Winning a medal on her first attempt would be a dream result, but Mills, who is fiercely competitive and has an impressive track record to prove it, is aiming higher. Gold in 2012 is what matters.
But Mills is still carving out her future career. Ideas, from finishing her degree to taking a year out to work a skiing or windsurfing season, pass through her mind, but there is no room or indeed need for an emergency alternative.
In the shorter term at least, she has her bases covered. Whatever happens, she believes sport will be the path she would take.
“Hockey, lacrosse or netball, I played them all at school and loved them and I could easily have ended up down this route, but I seem to have chosen sailing,” she says.
While she is impressively talented and self-effacing, her bubbly, effervescent character makes her instantly likeable. Since starting to race at the age of nine she has taken five World and European titles, passing some major milestones along the way. One of her first was winning the Optimist National championships in 2002, the first time a girl had won the title.
Yet this was to prove to be just one small step in a rapidly accelerating sailing career that has seen her dominate women’s world championships in both the 420 and 470.
Now racing with Saskia Clark, eight years her senior with extensive time in the 470 and previous Olympic experience, Mills finds herself in a pairing that appears to tick many of the remaining boxes.
Physically the pair suit each other. Mills’s diminutive 5ft 2in and slim build is perfectly offset for a single-trapeze boat by Clark at 5ft 9in and 67kg.
But most of all they get on. On shore and during training afloat they appear to have a mutual respect for each other’s strengths and a similar sense of humour.
And while you can never trade empathy for ability when it comes to the white hot competition in Olympic sailing, there is only so far that two talented sailors can go if they can’t both communicate and enjoy the ride.
Early ambitions – “I knew I wanted to sail, but having watched the film Twister I wanted to be a tornado chaser. When you’re young, goals like that seem sensible”
Best/worst quality – “I think I’m good at distilling and absorbing crucial information under pressure and then acting on it. On the downside I’m a bit of a potty-mouth and get stressed downwind when it’s crowded”
How do you relax? – “Mostly active things, windsurfing, mountain bike riding and hanging out with friends”
What picks you up when you’re down? – “I hate being on my own anyway so I’d need to take myself away from the situation and come back with a fresh mind. That would usually mean meeting with friends”
Non-sailing ambition – “To have kids, be a good wave sailor on a windsurfer and go on a big expedition”
What’s your plan ‘B’? – “I would do something with sport like hockey, lacrosse or netball”
Pet hate – Mobile phone use in social gatherings
Olympic campaign costs
Number of sails per season – 8 complete suits – this excludes those we might use during a specific sail development programme
Coach – Steve Lovegrove
Main competition – Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie (NZL) Ai Kondo and Tabata Wakako (JPN)
First class sailed – Optimist
First major success – Optimist girls World Champion 2003
Racing track record
2011 – Olympic test event – Silver
2008 – Girls World Champion – 470 1st
2007 – Girls Junior European Champion – 470 1st
2006 – Girls World Champion – 420 1st
2005 – Girls Junior European Champion – 420 1st
2005– ISAF Youth Worlds, Korea – 4th
Favourite sailing venue – Gran Canaria
Favourite regatta – 420 Europeans, Lake
Favourite boat – 470
Current car – Peugeot 206 – it’s blue, that’s important!
Film – Harry Potter, any of them
Band – Adele
Book – Harry Potter, any of them
Non sailing item – Stumpy J
iPhone app – Doodle Jump
iPod top 3 most played
Wonderman – Tiny Tempah
Someone like You – Adele
S&M – Rhianah