Mills' thirst for success drives her on towards Tokyo
Sailing

Mills' thirst for success drives her on towards Tokyo

01 October 2019 / 13:02
Whether she's on the catwalk or the catamaran, best is never enough for Hannah Mills. And you only need to look at her blog to realise why.

When Mills posted to announce she’d defend her 470 Olympic title at Tokyo 2020, the sailor broke down her life under five headings.

She described her ‘current motivation’ as ‘sky high.’ Her ‘current fitness level’ showed ‘room for improvement.’

Her ‘current health and nutrition level’ was described as an ‘ongoing process.’ The 31-year-old’s self-analysis is surgical, wrestling, turning over mind and matter in aching combination.

This is Mills in a nutshell. She’ll never be satisfied.

That’s why she’s an Olympic gold medallist, a plastic pollution campaigner and a champion of sustainable fashion, and still feels anxious to get started.

“I’ve definitely felt like I’ve taken too much on recently,” said the 31-year-old.

“I’m at an early stage with campaigning so it’s mostly just me, battling through on my own. I’m trying to make sure I respond well to people and put in a framework to make it cohesive.

“I didn’t sleep the night before Big Plastic Pledge launched. My mind was all over the place and I couldn’t switch off. I’ve taken on so much, I want it do well and make a change.

“The environment and plastic pollution is an overwhelming problem. It’s been a juggling act, but I’ve loved it.”

Mills tweeted ‘#exhausted’ to sum up a week in which she’d modelled at London Fashion Week and appeared as a delegate at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.

All this, remember, a month after winning World Championship gold and then silver at an Olympic Test event in Tokyo alongside Eilidh McIntyre.

“I’ve always juggled things,” she insisted.

“School was super important to me, and I was competitive in everything. The aim was to be top of every class to be honest. I’d always taken on as much as I could. I’m used to it.”

The Welsh star’s first focus was tennis and her fourth birthday present was a lesson. When visiting Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE, her highlight was meeting Sue Barker.

Sailing took hold on holiday in St Agnes, Cornwall. Told she couldn’t join her elder brothers on the water, an outraged Mills was placated with an hour’s session and instantly fell in love.

Born in Cardiff, Mills crammed her GCSE mock exams into a week to allow her to compete in the Optimist World Championships as a 15-year-old. She finished fifth and aced the tests.

Alan Williams was a guiding light as coach at Plas Menai, where Mills learnt her trade. Few teenagers can be described as an ‘enigma’, but that’s the only word he could find for her.

Mills doesn’t waste much time trying to unpick the various threads that run through her life.

“I’ve never thought about life in terms of challenges and obstacles,” she said.

“I see things in black and white, and that came from childhood. When you’re young you don’t worry – I was trying to beat everyone from day one and I thought it was possible.

“I haven’t a clue where my single-mindedness comes from. My dad is quite stubborn. Being the youngest sibling with two brothers, you’ve got to stick up for yourself.

“I’ve always been competitive and believed in myself. But gosh, I can’t tell you where that comes from.”

Mills has recently launched Big Plastic Pledge in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), motivated to act having seen the extent of plastic pollution in the oceans when competing in 2016.

She also strutted on the catwalk at a major London Fashion Week show for sustainable fashion house VIN + OMI, who worked with Prince Charles on a recent collection.

Seniority comes naturally to Mills, but she believes thought leadership is second nature to athletes and that sport has a power to unite that transcends politics.

“All athletes are very driven and most of us are leaders anyway,” she said.

“We are leading campaigns and our teams, so it comes naturally to want to be prominent and believe your voice matters.

“It’s just a change of direction in what you’re trying to lead and trying to excel in.

“You can’t look anywhere without seeing plastic when you’re sailing and it kind of drove me mad. When you think about it, it’s ridiculous.

“Sport reaches literally every corner of the globe. Half of the world’s population watched some part of Rio 2016, which is pretty amazing.

“We’ve seen sport unites countries and races and religions, everyone, through sheer emotion to people wanting to get behind teams and individuals.

“I think that it’s such a unique power, and we can push that spirit into solving some of the biggest problems we face in the world.”

The waters that greet Mills and McIntyre in Enoshima next year will be choppy, with the high winds expected to suit the pair as they challenge Japan and France for top step.

A month’s sailing in Japan this summer have assuaged fears that unfamiliarity with conditions will hurt their chances of retaining the crown Mills won alongside Saskia Clark.

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It is the sheer openness of a course yawning out into the Pacific Ocean that means when Olympic gold is on the line, Mills will feel like she’s back in St Agnes, fundamentally free.

“I first loved sailing because of the independence, being away from not just your parents but from the world,” she said.

“It’s really special to still have that sense of freedom. You don’t feel it every day, but there are moments and I felt it in Tokyo.

“There’s nothing between you and Hawaii. It’s just mad – a cool feeling.”

Sportsbeat 2019