by Lindsey Bell
Throughout the week, as we advance towards the anniversary of the 2012 Olympic Games on 27 July, we’ll hear from members of the 2012 British Sailing Team who reflect on their own Games experiences, how they themselves were inspired by 2012, and on life and sailing since the London Olympic flame went out and the focus switched to Rio 2016. Cardiff’s Hannah Mills won silver at her first Olympic Games in London, competing with Saskia Clark in the 470 women’s event.
Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills (GBR) winner of the Silver Medal in the Womens 470
Since London, she’s taken time out of the sport, returning to Olympic Classes sailing only this month as she and Clark prepare for their World Championships in August as a first step back on the Road to Rio:
In some elements it feels like the Games was only yesterday and in some elements it feels like it was literally forever ago – it’s quite a bizarre thing to think back at, but now here we are a year on!
Team Volvo - Hannah Mills - Extreme Sailing Series 2012
It was amazing to see the aftermath and how the country reacted to the Olympics, how it really did inspire everybody and how happy everyone was during and after it. When you’re involved in it and you’re competing you don’t get to really appreciate that. It was only afterwards that we could really get a vibe for how that was going. That was the most overwhelming thing for me.
I was lucky enough that my schedule meant to I could go to the Opening Ceremony in London, and that was incredible. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to do that, you’ll never experience anything like it again. I can’t even begin to describe what that it felt like walking into the stadium, it was just amazing.
Weymouth and Portland put on a great show for the Olympics and for sailing. We had huge local support as well as our own supporters who had travelled in for a couple of weeks. In our own little cocoon in Weymouth there was an amazing buzz and everyone was super excited and really got behind us. It was pretty incredible.
The medal race on the Nothe course was my best memory – not so much the race, but more the spectators. My whole family and friends had these yellow dusters that they were waving so I could see where they were in amongst everyone. I could spot a massive bunch of them and that was amazing. There was no other significance to yellow dusters, I’m really not a clean freak or anything! I was purely so they could be spotted easily!
At the time I was disappointed with silver, having been so close to gold, but now I definitely have taken on board what we achieved. It was wicked and as a kid that’s what you dream of, so it’s incredible to have won a silver medal. I’m still disappointed that we didn’t manage the gold though, and I think that’s something that will probably stay with you forever, the disappointment that it didn’t quite work out. Hopefully this time around we can put that right.
Saskia Clarke and Hannah Mills (GBR) celebrate their Silver medal win with hand-held flares on the Nothe Stadium course
Sailing’s such a tricky sport to get right and sometimes it doesn’t quite go your way, so you have to try and get over it and move on. That’s part of my motivation for Rio – that and the fact we have more time this time round. We can just cover more areas and make sure we’re slightly more thorough with everything we do in the build-up and hopefully get that slightly tweaked. I love the sport, I love the Olympics and am really excited to be sailing with Sas again and to try and win in Rio.
I visited Rio at the end of last year, and it is quite a bizarre place. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and when I first got there I thought it was a bit of a crazy city with such an obvious rich-poor divide. I’d never been to a country like that before. After a few days I’d got totally settled and actually loved it, I thought it was amazing place with so much to do and see. I think if they sort themselves out and get a bit organised it could be an incredible Games and definitely one that will go down as a good one.
Sas and I had a bit of time out after the Games – first of all we were just exhausted, it’s just so full on and relentless. We both wanted some time out for us to decide whether it was the right thing for us to carry on, both individually and then together. Rather than make a decision in the heat of the moment, we wanted time to make a calculated decision on that.
Also we wanted to experience different things. I did a lot of different types of sailing which was amazing. It’s such a diverse sport and there are so many different things you can go and try. I went and did some Extreme 40 sailing, which is a 40 foot catamaran and is really, really quick. The racing is short and intense – eight boats in a tiny little area and 10-15 minute racing. It was pretty epic but great fun, and very different to a 470! It’s great to learn something different and experience something different. That’s what brought me to Rio so that was quite cool. I had a go in the other new Olympic boats as well, the 49erFX and the Nacra. I always knew that I’d stay in the 470 but they’re new boats so it was fun to give them a try.
The Games effect has been huge, and still is. I go into schools now and everyone still remembers it like it was yesterday. The kids are massively over-excited about it all, especially when you take your medal. They love it and you can’t get away! I think it’s encouraged people to be active, to do things and try things – and it’s especially good for parents of kids to see such a positive effect that it has on kids to be active and doing stuff. From the kids’ side it’s great for them to have something to channel that crazy energy that kids have, to do something active with it, and try and do well at it.
I’m really excited to be getting back in the boat with Sas again. Before we could even go sailing we had to do three days of arranging our kit, sorting it all out. We just had so much stuff to deal with before we could even go on the water, and then we had to pack our kit ready for the Worlds in La Rochelle. Kit packing, loading and unloading the boats is never the glamorous part of our sport but it has to be done!
We’ve finished our first two weeks of training camps which were great fun. I was a bit nervous actually, because I hadn’t sailed in the 470 for 10 months so I was a bit like ‘what if I don’t like it any more, or it’s boring…?!’. But it was wicked, and I’m really excited to get racing again.
We have thrown ourselves in at the deep end with our World Championships being the first event back. We’ve given ourselves a bit on as defending World Champions, but I think that’s the right thing for us and actually I think it will be a really good marker for where the fleet are and where we are, so it will be a good first event.
British Sailing Team website