Success for Mills and Clark in Fremantle


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The Independent Online

She weighs just 51kgs but Hannah Mills packs a punch that could lead to the Olympic Games medal podium next summer with relatively new sailing partner Saskia Clark.

They only started sailing together in February, competed in their first regatta in April, have already won bronze in the 470 dinghy at the European championship, if you discount Brazil, and yesterday (Sunday) added silver in the world championship. Britain’s production line of winning blondes racing Olympic sailing boats continues.

At close of play Britain had the most medals with six – one gold, four silvers and a bronze – but the President’s Cup for the top scoring nation went to Australia with three golds and second was The Netherlands with two golds.

Even at 51kgs Mills had been trying to add weight for what is a known windy race track off Fremantle, W. Australia. Clark, with truck loads of experience, had been expecting to race with double gold medallist Sarah Ayton.

But, in January, Ayton decided that being a mother was more important, plus supporting husband Nick Dempsey in his bid for gold on the windsurfer. Since then the pace of improvement has been impressive and the addition of double silver medallist Joe Glanfield as coach and mentor has only increased the momentum.

Their big rivals are the European and world champions from Spain Tara Pacheco and Berta Betanzos and it will need all the rate of continued improvement to topple them next August. “This week hadn’t been the greatest for starts and first legs,” said Clark, “but we have been really strong downwind. We are really pleased to win a medal, but it is all about next year and we feel we can pull out our best performance when it counts.”

In spades. They won the final race in impressive form but Mills added: “We need to plan next year in such a way that we can do as much racing as possible but also make sure we peak at the right time.”

Scoring his second silver in succession and beating Britain’s appointed Weymouth representative and defending Olympic champion, Paul Goodison, in a second successive world championship was Nick Thompson in the Laser. Playing unashamedly to the gallery – the stadium set-up for the finals races worked really well - the defending champion from Australia, Tom Slingsby, was in exhibition sailing mode when winning the gold.

“I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Thompson. “I couldn’t really have asked much more, apart from gold, and to be fair Tom sailed a fantastic event and deserved to win it.  I’m absolutely ecstatic.”

Not happy were John Pink and Rick Peacock who rather fell apart in the final races of the 49er skiff. They had led most of the week but then lost concentration and form, came last in the medal race apart from the capsized American, and slipped to fourth.

The 49er GBR place at the Games is still up for grabs and competition will resume in Spain in April when Stevie Morrison’s crew Ben Rhodes, due for a second toe operation next week, is expected also to have recovered from a rib injury. Nick Dempsey did not make the top 10 cut in the windsurfer class.

“This has been a good performance and the team is on track for 2012,” said Stephen Park, sailing’s Olympic manager. “We have won twice as many medals as any other country, we know that both the windsurfers, Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw are Olympic medallists, and we lost the Star pair of Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson to Iain’s injured back.”

Over 1,100 sailors from 78 countries put on one of the biggest shows in small yacht sailing. If there was local criticism because A$20m. had not produced the returns in spectator interest which had been forecast, the regatta itself, which settled 75 per cent of the qualifications for the 2012 Games, was a success, as were the moves towards entertaining those spectators who bothered to turn up.

A hike north up the Indian Ocean has given the Chinese entry, Sanya, in a 2008-09 boat an unexpected lead in the Volvo round the world race. As the others turn north and the other boat which took a gamble, France’s Groupama, moves into second place, the fleet of six hopes to make better progress than 1,200 miles in the week since the start of the second leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.