Old fashioned approach set McIntyre on course for Tokyo 2020

Old fashioned approach set McIntyre on course for Tokyo 2020

14 October 2019 / 07:01
Millennials do their dating online, hence the label generation mute, so when Eilidh McIntyre did that old fashioned thing and picked up the phone you could only imagine her nerves.

Only her call had a different agenda - and a rejection could have ended her Olympic dream.

Hannah Mills won sailing silver at London 2012, which she upgraded four years later with partner Saskia Clark in Rio, a regatta played out under the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer in sparkling waters teeming with sewage.

Clark then announced her retirement and Mills was suddenly all at sea, looking for a new challenge and contemplating whether she had the appetite for the unrelenting grind of another Olympic circle.

"I made the first move but Hannah really made me chase her for a bit," said McIntyre.

"I just phoned her up and asked if she'd sail with me in Tokyo and she was really non-committal, it was a bit like asking someone out and being told they'd like to be just be friends.

"I'd stopped sailing with my old partner, we just were struggling to build a team together and, in my heart, I just felt we were not going to achieve what I wanted.

"I'd hoped Hannah was going to come back for Tokyo and it was always there at the back of my mind.

"She did tell me I was her best chance of winning gold in Tokyo in the same phone call, so I thought 'that's not a no, then'.

"We went out sailing together and had a bit of a laugh and it all worked out in the end."

McIntyre and Mills - who recently claimed their first world title together - were among the first 12 British athletes selected for next year's Tokyo Games, joining forces in sailing's 470 class.

And McIntyre, 25, doesn't need to look far to fuel her 'Olympic obsession' - it's everywhere, on the water and off it, at work and at home.

In addition to having Mills for inspiration, her father, Michael, won gold at the 1988 Games in Seoul.

"I've spent my whole life around an Olympic champion so perhaps that made it easier starting to work with Hannah. I'm fortunate to have an Olympic gold medallist at home and another one at work, not many people can say that," she added.

"She's obviously one of the best sailors this country has ever produced but she's just Hannah too. Of course I feel the pressure and nervousness of working with her but I can't be in awe. I have to take ownership too, I can't leave all things to her, otherwise we won't achieve our goals.

"She can't do it without me, I can't be a bystander. I can't take a back seat and think 'she's the Olympic champion', she wants me to challenge her because it's a partnership.

"It's like a marriage without the love, but there's a bit of love too! We always watch a box set together, we've just made a playlist of our favourite songs. We got out for dinner and take turns to choose the restaurant."

McIntyre claims she's never worn her dad's medal - perhaps because she's always wanted her own.

And she certainly won't trot out that trite cliche about this being just another regatta.

"Since I was five I wanted to go to the Olympics and win gold, that feeling is deep inside me and it's driven everything I've ever done," she added.

"It's an obsession, perhaps it's been too much of an obsession. For so long from the moment I wake up I've been thinking about it. I'm almost simmering all the time, ready for my moment. 

"I used to put so much pressure on myself to perform that I stopped learning. I just wanted things so much, I was just too competitive, I just wanted to win too much.

"I was a total nightmare, just too competitive. Even now when I go and do something with friends I have to remind myself 'Eilidh, this is just meant to be fun, it's not about winning'.

"It's brutal trying to make the Games and win a gold, both emotionally and physically. It's hard work on your body, mind and soul, putting your ego on the line every day is harder than you can ever imagine.

“But is it worth it? Absolutely."

Sportsbeat 2019