Hannah Snellgrove: Folk singer, Cambridge graduate and Paris 2024 Olympian

Hannah Snellgrove’s Olympic debut will be testament to the phrase ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’.

The sailor estimates it is 26 years ago that she first set foot in a boat and 17 since she decided ‘it would be good to go to an Olympics one day’. A teenage diary even put a guarantee of appearing at one in writing.

Snellgrove could be forgiven for feeling her chance of fulfilling that ambition were all but over at several stages in the intervening years.

She is no fan of the word ‘journey’ but hers has included no shortage of twists and turns. The 33-year-old’s first Olympic cycle led up to London 2012, when she deferred a year of her studies at Cambridge University in a bid to be selected only to miss out to Alison Young.

Young got the nod again in Tokyo, prior to which Snellgrove had crowdfunded to buy a boat as part of her comeback trail having been dropped from the British Sailing programme in 2014.

A decade on from her lowest moment in the sport, the Lymington star has now been selected to represent Team GB in the ILCA 6 class in Marseille at the 2024 Games in August.

“It’s a culmination of 15 years of hard work, not just by me, by a lot of people who have helped along the way,” she said.

“Since finding out I was going, I’ve had flashbacks to all these random moments along the way where I’ve been helped out in completely different ways by friends, family and people I barely know.

“It’s so humbling and it’s a combination of all those acts of human kindness and hard work.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s special to me because I know it’s special to a lot of people I really care about. It is a real team effort.”

Snellgrove has insisted on video calls to reveal the good news to those closest to her so she can witness their reactions. Amidst the screams, tears and cheers came one more unexpected response.

“Someone, who shall remain nameless, said ‘that’s made me so excited I need to go and have a wee!” she said. “That was a personal favourite.

“Everyone is really chuffed. People have been there for me through the entire process, they have seen the ups and downs first-hand and been there to pick up the pieces through the downs.”

Snellgrove does not gloss over the choppy waters she has navigated. She suffered from the Epstein-Barr Virus as a youngster, ‘blew all her savings’ while self-funding in the wake of being dropped and had to recover from a serious back injury just when her form was beginning to peak in 2022.

She credits the time spent outside the sailing bubble as key to her upturn in fortunes when she returned to the water, with a job at a local paper and role as one half of folk duo Bimbling playing a part in forming the more balanced character who now takes to the seas.

“I have seen there is a life after sailing and I was quite happy in that life,” she said.

“It has become a bit of a super strength. There were times last year I had a bit of a disaster in a regatta but I’d be able to bounce back and maintain a cool head.

“I spent a lot of time off the water in 2022, which was a real shame as at the beginning of that year I had been performing really well.

“To go from that to then questioning whether I’d actually sail again competitively, let alone go to the Olympics, I wasn’t in a good place physically or mentally.

“If you think everything is slipping away because of an injury, it is really hard, but we got through that and learned to love the sport again.

“It’s really easy to lose sight of why you do it, which is because you love sailing. Remembering that is really important and the team around me helped me do that.”

Equipped with a fresh sense of perspective, Snellgrove – who will be accompanied by her travel guitar, Petunia, in the south of France come August – qualified Team GB an Olympic quota spot at last year’s World Championships and will now occupy it.

One of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support, Snellgrove is determined to ensure the joy and relief of selection is matched by seizing the opportunity when it arrives.

“I have seen glimpses of the sailor I’ve always wanted to be in this cycle, which I wouldn’t say I had before,” she said.

“There were signs of that in the 2023 season, multiple top fives, winning big races, I could feel it coming back after my injury. If you focus on that, you can get that self-belief.

“Selection means a huge amount and I have to enjoy this moment. Now it’s about resetting and trying to put the best performance possible together at the Games.”

Sportsbeat 2024