Sailing achievements and eco efforts give proud Mills flagbearer honour

Little and large will combine at Friday's Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony when Hannah Mills, at a shade under 5ft2, will share flag bearing duties with the giant 6ft8 rower Mohamed Sbihi.

The diminutive Mills, who upgraded the sailing silver she won in London to gold in Rio, will make history as the first Welsh woman to carry the flag at a summer Games.

However, while the IOC’s new setup will see each nation nominate one male and one female flag bearer, yet carrying just one flag, the logistics of how it will actually work remain a mystery for Mills, who first took up sailing at the Cardiff Sailing Centre as an eight-year-old.

She said: “I don’t think I’ll be starting a fight over it, because I don’t know how well that would go for me. I’ve not thought about the logistics, I’ve only just heard about the one flag so it will be interesting.

“I’m sure we’ll come up with a clever way that we can both get a really special moment and both get to be involved as much as possible.

“I’ve not managed to speak to Moe yet, I’ve been sailing all afternoon so when the news broke, I was on the water. I got inundated with amazing messages, but we’ve not caught up yet. We definitely will.”

While there is quite a macho side to flag bearing, notably since Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent shunned the holder offered to each bearer to carry with arms straight, Mills admits that is something she will leave to Sbihi.

“I don’t know if that’s my bag, the one-arm holdout. Maybe that is why Moe is involved, he’s got the guns,” she added.

It is remarkable recognition for Mills, part of a hugely successful partnership with Saskia Clark in the 470 class, and now looking to add a third Olympic medal to her collection with new partner Eilidh McIntyre.

She is only the second sailor ever to be named flag bearer, and the first female sailor. However for Mills, it is also acknowledgment of her extensive work on climate change and her passion for sustainability.

She said: “I’m genuinely as passionate about the sustainability work that I do, as I am my sailing. I put a lot of effort into trying to raise awareness, particularly plastic solutions but also working with the IOC around how sport can be part of the solution and how we as athletes can do more and be a vehicle for change.

“It’s a huge honour to be selected for my sailing achievements but also all the environmental work that I’m really passionate about as well.

“It’s completely overwhelming and such a huge honour to be chosen out of the incredible other athletes there are in this team.

"For sailing as a sport, it’s massive, it’s one of the minority sports at the Games, so to get this recognition and for people to see sailing front and centre, it’s huge.

"Hopefully it will inspire kids to get out on the water because we’ve got amazing coastal facilities in the UK.”