Hannah Mills: Olympic sailing champion on changing boats and concussion

Hannah Mills (left) with Saskia Mills
Hannah Mills (left) and Saskia Clark celebrate winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics

What do you do after achieving your lifetime dream of Olympic gold?

Well, if you are Welsh sailor Hannah Mills, the answer is simple. You aim to repeat your success, maybe this time in a different boat.

History awaits for the 29-year-old as Mills aims to become Britain's most successful female Olympic sailor and put her name among the world greats in her sport.

After flirting with the idea, Mills confirmed this week she plans to attempt to win the 49erFX gold at Tokyo 2020 after winning the 470 class with Saskia Clark in Rio last year.

Putting off retirement

Mills' Rio recognition will be completed when she collects her MBE at Buckingham Palace next month.

She has revealed why she has decided against following a fellow Rio golden girl into retirement.

"I thought I would finish after Rio," Mills told BBC Wales Sport.

"Saskia was retiring, we'd had such an amazing six-year partnership and achieved everything we had ever dreamed of together. It seemed a natural conclusion.

"After Rio, I did some different things, work experience up in London to experience real life. That was cool and re-energised me.

"You put everything into an Olympic campaign, you are absolutely drained and have nothing left to give.

"I also did some sailing for fun and got the love back.

"I had a good think. I am 29 and might not get this chance again. I'm just so excited about the next three and a half years."

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Hannah Mills targets fresh Tokyo challenge in 2020 despite considering joining partner Saskia Clark in retirement.

Why change boats?

Mills is now back in training, currently in southern Spain trialling the new boat with Alain Sign, who competed in Rio.

"I have sailed the 470 for 10 years and won Olympic silver and gold," said Mills.

"I felt whatever I wanted to achieve in Tokyo, I needed to break away from that boat.

"Maybe in a year's time, I will be back there [in the 470 boat], sailing it full of passion.

"But right now, I knew I wanted to keep sailing and was desperate to win another gold medal. This is the right event for me."

The pair will compete in three mixed events before Mills has to find a female partner to compete at the World Championships in September, with a final decision on her Olympics boat expected in a year.

"I have been sailing with Alain who is one of the best in the world," said Mills.

"The little mistakes I am making, he can stop happening and he is constantly telling me things to get better.

"It's a huge benefit. We have three regattas opened up to mixed crews, which is fantastic because I get real racing experience.

"The World Championships are in September so I will need to find a female partner for that.

"I am having ongoing chats and scouting. After the World Championships, there will be a review time to decide whether I continue in the 49erFX with a final decision expected in February or March 2018."

What's the difference?

Mills has explained how the two boats differ.

"The main thing is I am now standing on the side of the boat," said the Dinas Powys sailor.

"I am hooked on to a wire, it's called trapesing, as opposed to sitting down and leaning out the side of the boat.

Hannah Mills (left) with Saskia Clark
Hannah Mills (left) and Saskia Clark won gold in Rio after claiming silver at the London Olympics in 2012

"It's a new skill and I have been quite wobbly at times.

"With the FX being a bigger boat, I'm going to need to put on some weight which is a challenge in itself as I'm tiny.

"I'll need to put on about 10% of my body weight, so quite a lot."

Concussion concern

Mills has revealed her return to sailing was hampered by a six-week lay-off because of concussion.

"In the first training camp in January we were doing a fitness session and one of the guys knocked me over," said Mills.

"I experienced concussion symptoms. I struggled to concentrate and focus on anything.

"If I concentrated on anything too hard, my brain felt as if it wouldn't work. I would be exhausted and have to have a lie down."

Concussion is currently a hot topic in sport and Mills revealed the effects she has suffered.

"It was distressing," said Mills.

"You can't see an injury in your brain but there is no time frame in when you are going to get better and you don't know how bad the damage is.

"It's hard to say whether I am fully recovered. It feels like I am, especially these last few weeks.

"Up until that point, I was still showing the odd sign and if I did too much in a day, I'd be tired.

"I would say I am 99% now and luckily come out the other side."

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