Sailors Mills and Clark delay motherhood to plot an Olympic course for Rio
21:08 GMT, 11 August 2012
Hannah Mills woke with her Olympic silver medal next to her but her red Team GB trainers had been harder to find meaning she was barefooted when she appeared from Weymouth on the BBC’s breakfast show with her sailing partner, Sas Clark.
Kindly, Clark fielded most of the questions while Mills dealt in near silence with an aching head. An hour later, Mills, 24, was still far from her usual effervescent self. ‘Hannah was doing shots last night,’ said Clark, giggling by way of explanation. ‘So was I, but I’ve eight years more experience!’
Big plans: Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills are not content with a silver and will continue training for a shot at gold in Rio
The big party thrown by their parents, and the parents of their team-mates Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, who also won silver medals in the same 470 class boats as Mills and Clark on Friday, had been a riotous night after months of abstinence from alcohol by the sailors.
‘Everyone was so happy for us, it brought home what we had achieved,’ said Mills. In just 18 months in a boat together, Mills, from the Vale of Glamorgan, and Clark, 32, from Essex, had navigated to the second step of the Olympic podium.
Yet while they appreciated the flattering comments from family and friends, many of whom they had not seen for months or longer, the two women cannot accept this is the end of their Olympic odyssey.
‘For me, the whole Olympicthing still burns prettybright and we want to get a gold medal in Rio in 2016,’ said Clark. And without hesitation, she places a quest for gold over motherhood.
Party girl: Hannah Mills celebrated her silver medal with a heavy night out
‘I’m the youngest of three girls and both my sisters have kids,’ said Clark, in a long-term relationship with Olympic sailor Paul Goodison, who won gold in Beijing four years ago but suffered a back injury that knocked him down the Laser fleet at these Games.
‘I’m not sure if I want to have kids. It’s a massive deal that you can’t walk away from.
‘Would an Olympic gold medal mean more than having a family At this point in time, yes. The Olympics bug gets you — and I think Paul’s up for competing again. But life also happens and we’ll see how it all pans out. Even so, I can’t see myself in four years’ time doing anything else other than being in Rio.’
Mills and Clark epitomise the sportsmen and women who, for the past two weeks, have stepped from the shadows to make a nation proud of them for the sheer purity of their ambition.
Big plans: Saskia Clark (right) says a gold medal is more important than starting a family at this point in her life
As part of the sailing team, they drive sponsored cars and receive a grant from the National Lottery, but Mills and Clark train and dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence because that is an end in itself to them.
‘There are some exceptions, but a lot of sports in the Olympics are minority ones,’ said Clark.
‘Hannah and I are not doing this to have a big house or a snazzy car.’ Each morning throughout her Olympics, Clark was sick through nervous anxiety.
‘Breakfast was a battle every day,’ she explained. But these women’s passion for their sport is an incurable addiction.
Mills said: ‘We’re both going to take some time out and do other things we want to do; but then, we’ll come back to the drawing board early next year and make a little bit of a plan of what we both want to do.’
She does not intend to return in the foreseeable future to Bristol University, where she deferred her degree in mechanical engineering after two years to concentrate on the Games.
Top team: Mills, Clark and the other British sailors lived separately from their fellow British Olympians during the games
‘I want to travel and enjoy life as someone not living and breathing sailing.’
Clark added: ‘Hopefully, we’ll have lots of cool and exciting things to do in the short term. I’m probably a terrible daughter and friend because we dip in and out of their lives and miss every significant event in those people’s lives.
‘It will be nice to be on the end of the phone and go to things that happen in everyday life.’
In Weymouth and Portland, the sailors existed independently from other Olympians.
‘We’ve lived in a little bit of a parallel universe,’ smiled Clark, although the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as Princess Anne and Prime Minister David Cameron, did travel to the Jurassic coast to watch some racing.
‘We missed Kate as we were on the water racing, but the boys in the team, particularly Luke and Stuart, were very excited by her presence,’ laughed Clark. Ben Ainslie claimed Britain’s solitary gold on the water, though Team GB amassed four silver medals as well.
Hard graft: Mills and Clark will unite with their Great Britain team-mates on an open-topped bus through Weymouth
On Wednesday, the team will ride on an open-topped bus through Weymouth at the start of innumerable engagements over the coming months to celebrate their success. The popularity of the Olympic regatta was beyond their wildest imagination.
‘It’s unheard of to have any crowd watching us, let alone 5,000 people who came to see the races on the Nothe Course in Weymouth,’ said Clark. ‘You could hear the noise, the cheers, from the water.’
Most evenings, Mills and Clark had joined team-mates in the communal lounge in Team GB’s apartment block at Portland to yell and shout for British athletes competing in the Olympic Stadium.
‘Like the rest of the country, we were thrilled Jess Ennis achieved her gold medal,’ said Mills. ‘That was inspiring.’ Clark added: ‘Most of us were close to tears by the time Mo won the 10,000m.’
Mills and Clark might have been celebrating gold themselves, but for a wind change shortly after the start of their medal race with New Zealand’s Jo Alieh and Pollie Powrie.
The British girls tacked left, the New Zealanders went right and the day was lost. ‘We planned our preparation to every inch of its life,’ said Mills. ‘We were really proud of how we approached the Games and got through them.
It’s just an insane experience, especially as someone in her first Olympics at home. I wouldn’t really change a thing.’ Clark said, drily: ‘Only thing I’d change is go right in that last race.
Otherwise, I’m really proud ofwhat Hannah and I have done.’ And excited by the prospect of being together again in Rio four years from now.