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The Women's Sports Alliance


Hannah Mills on Olympic success and sustainability

Images courtesy of World Sailing and Hannah Mills

Gold at Tokyo 2020 saw Hannah Mills become the most successful female Olympic sailor in history as she added a third honour to her previous title (Rio 2016) and silver medal (London 2012) achieved across nine glorious years in the sport.

A champion on the water, but also off it.

In addition to winning awards like ‘World sailor of the year’ and being named as a flagbearer for Team GB at the last Olympics, Hannah also helping launch the ‘Big Plastic Pledge’ in 2019 and has been widely praised for her sustainability activation work.

Since retiring from the 470 dingy sailing class last year she has stepped up that environmental awareness campaigning, while also transitioning into racing larger yatchs and has become a mother for the first time.

Q – You won eight World medals and enjoyed European success in the 470, but let’s talk about those Olympic medals. How you feel when you hold each of them?

Image courtesy of World Sailing

“It’s kind of mind blowing especially as each one is such an individual journey,” she tells the WSA.

“Each Olympics you’re such a different person and a different team sometimes so putting them all together across the span of your career makes you realise how much it took to win each of them – and it was a lot!”

London 2012 – silver – with Saskia Clark

“I still feel disappointment unfortunately, we got silver and that really stung at the time (as reigning World champions) and it still does a little because when I look at it because I feel we could have done things slight differently and the result would have been different.

“But then I think about Rio (2016) and potentially it wouldn’t have happened how it did if that (London) had gone another way. You don’t know the impact that had on Saskia and myself, so yeah you’d never choose to change history in that respect.”

Rio 2016 – gold – with Saskia Clark

“Looking at the Rio one, I feel so much relief and happiness. To do it was Saskia, we’d gone for six years, got silver and then gold.

“It was as our first Olympic gold medal and it was endless relief and amazing to have my mum there to witness it too.”

Tokyo 2020 – gold – with Eilidh McIntyre

“I felt so much pride, more so with the Tokyo medal than the others and that was for a few reasons,” she reveals.

“Obviously the extra year with Covid which threw up so many challenges and doing it with a new partner was a big challenge in terms of changing my approach to accommodate us as a team.

“I think I felt like I delivered my best performance of my career at Tokyo, so there’s a lot of pride in that.”

Q – How have you found adjusting to life after Olympic sailing?

“It’s been really weird adjusting because Tokyo was so intense due to the Covid rules and it was really emotional leaving behind something that was so special and that you know you’ll never be part of again,” she admits.

“There was sadness at probably the end of my Olympic journey and it took time to come to terms with it. I was busy and loads of amazing post-Olympic experiences but it took me time to find the emotional energy for anything else.

“I felt flat and was going through the motions, telling myself I should be happier and enjoy things more, but I think that’s part of the process of the Games coming to an end. Over time it goes and you start to feel yourself and really motivated for new things.”

Q – Like becoming a new mum! You’re also expanding your environmental work. How did your passion for that and sustainability come about?

“It was in the build-up to the Rio Olympics,” Hannah reveals.

“The plastic pollution (around the Guanabara Bay in Brazil), I’d never seen anything quite as bad as I saw it in Rio and it really got me thinking, researching and educating myself.

“Plastic was kind of my gateway into the rest of sustainability, so I’ve been on that journey since Rio to learn more and understand the very complex problem that we’re trying to solve globally.”

Q – How important is the athlete voice in pushing this really important agenda?

“Sustainability and climate change is a tough one for a lot of people, let alone athletes, as there’s a sense of hypocrisy with everyone has an environmental footprint, but elite athletes potentially having a bigger one (due to travel), so it’s challenging to overcome.

“I really believe athletes have a huge role to play in this climate crisis though and part of what I’m trying to do is help other athletes feel like they can speak about these issues.

“Sport has such a platform to reach so many places around the world and if we unite on certain issues, I think we can create global awareness and real positive change.”


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