Tokyo Olympics: Hannah Mills crowned sailing’s queen with 470 gold alongside Eilidh McIntyre

Mills is now the most successful female sailor in Olympic history

Tom Harle
Wednesday 04 August 2021 15:10 BST
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Hannah Mills was crowned sailing’s queen as she won a second Olympic gold in the 470 class but not without surviving a late French claim on the sport’s seat of power.

In 2017, the Welsh star was wavering on whether to defend the title she won in Rio with Saskia Clark before taking a call from Eilidh McIntyre, who said: “I can help you win it again.”

Mills was rewarded for keeping her phone on vibrate and her eyes on the prize as she became the most decorated female sailor in Olympic history alongside exceptional crew McIntyre.

“We put everything we are into this and it’s a massive relief,” said the diminutive 33-year-old, who further added to the silver she won at London 2012.

“There have been so many incredible female sailors, so to be up there doesn’t feel real. I am sure that will get trumped soon and that will be amazing when it does.

“Hopefully we are inspiring the next generation of women’s sailors and that is important to us, getting people out on the water to enjoy the incredible sport.”

Consistency was key for crews on Enoshima Bay, which delivered high gusts as Typhoon Nepartak struck on the second day and then insufficient wind to race on Monday.

Thankfully that is Mills and McIntyre’s stock in trade. Both were physically sick with nerves but only once failed to finish in the top four across the first eight races.

That left them needing to finish in the top seven in the double-points medal race to seal gold, Team GB’s 14th in Tokyo.

Simple, right? Never, not when you’re on the high seas and pursuing Olympic victory.

Mills and McIntyre took fewer than no risks and crossed the finish line in fifth, both in floods of tears and celebrating on the pontoon with support staff.

Hannah Mills (left) and Eilidh McIntyre celebrate
Hannah Mills (left) and Eilidh McIntyre celebrate (Getty)

Then a ring of steel or solidarity formed around them when news filtered through that French crew Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz had issued an appeal.

The allegation was that Mills and McIntyre had deliberately given Poland, who would take silver on the strength of fourth in the race, unnecessary room to overtake at the final turning mark.

Mills had to wait five years to defend her title and McIntyre the same to chase her lifelong Olympic dream; they were made to wait a sickening further 40 minutes for the jury’s verdict.

“That was unexpected from our side,” said Mills. “We want to race our race and to win a gold medal – that’s all we really cared about.

“Obviously emotions are always high, it’s pretty stressful and pretty hot out there.

“They came up to us a while ago, apologised, and said they completely respect what has happened. I think we will all forget about it.”

The French crew later said: “We put in the protest because it is the right of the sailor to ask this when you have doubts about what happened.

“We have to accept that but it is part of the game of sailing that we have the right to ask the question, because everything moves very fast on water and it is important to look at it again.”

Mills has intimated Tokyo will be her last Olympics, and the 470 class itself will change from being raced by two-person male and female crews to mixed for Paris in 2024.

The British women had to endure a 40-minute wait before their gold medal was confirmed
The British women had to endure a 40-minute wait before their gold medal was confirmed (Getty)

The latest move towards inter-gender competition from organisers hasn’t gained unanimous support from the British sailing team.

Luke Patience, helmsman of the men’s 470 that finished fifth, said in an interview in April: “We’re forcing in more female competitors and forcing out a load of men. That’s not equality, it’s just balancing a spreadsheet.”

Mills disagrees, saying: “I think it’s great. Sailing’s a great sport for mixed races, we saw that this time round in the Nacra. I think it’s brilliant and super inspirational for kids to see men and women competing at the top together.”

Mills will dominate the headlines but the gold medal meant as much, if not more, to McIntyre.

Every day of her childhood, the 27-year-old opened her bedroom door to see the gold medal that her father Michael won in the star class in Seoul 1988.

“He’s been my inspiration my entire life,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed of having a gold medal and here I am, and I just can’t believe it.

“It’s been such a fight and such a long journey, and it feels like the end of 25 years of dreaming.”

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