Mills and McIntyre: 'We need each other to win Olympic gold'

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‘We need each other to win Olympic gold’

One could become one of the most successful female Olympic sailors of all time, the other has been dreaming of winning gold since she was five.

Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre have their own motivations for Tokyo 2020, but will not get there without each other.

The pair are British Sailing's top women's 470 duo and next week they will take their first steps towards Olympic qualification.

The Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma, Majorca marks the start of the European sailing season.

"It's really exciting once you get to that last 14 or 15 months from an Olympic Games," Hannah Mills tells BBC Sport Wales.

"Every event counts and we're looking to perform at every event."

The 31-year-old from Cardif won gold at Rio 2016 and silver at London 2012 with previous partner Saskia Clark.

Clark subsequently retired and Mills considered doing the same. Instead she took some time away, tried her hand at sailing a different boat and realised she wanted to do another four years.

That could have been in the 49er FX class until her former rival in the 470 gave her a call in 2017.

'Eilidh was the only option'

"Come on, I was always going to want to sail with the Olympic gold medallist!" says McIntyre.

"I had to do whatever was best to win a gold medal. That was picking up the phone and convincing Hannah to come 470 sailing."

Mills said it was an easy decision to team up with McIntyre.

"I knew that if I went back to the 470, Eilidh was the only option for me," she admits.

"She's super motivated, really passionate and absolutely loves sailing and competing.

"Ultimately we both want the same thing - we both want an Olympic gold medal and we realise without each other that's not going to happen."

'The gold medal was outside my bedroom door'

While every athlete may grow up dreaming of an Olympic gold medal, not many have to live with one.

But after Eilidh's father, Michael, won gold in 1988 his medal was understandably given pride of place in the family home.

"I grew up with pictures of him around my house and this gold medal is right outside my bedroom door," says the 24-year-old. "I just woke up seeing it every morning.

"I've just had this obsession that's grown and grown. I've wanted it for so long."

Although Mills admits their first time sailing together was "a disaster" after her long break, things quickly improved.

At their first event together in 2017 - the World Cup Final - they won gold. Medals have followed at almost every major competition since.

Their relentless schedule sees them spend more time with each other than their actual partners. But both are quick to say how well they get on, on and off the boat.

"We're such a good fit because Eilidh really brings the passion and excitement and that desire to get better and get to the top," says Mills.

"I've been there and done that so I bring a more strategic, thought-out process. We work really well together."

British Sailing have already guaranteed a place in the women's 470 class at Tokyo 2020. Now it just needs to find a pair to fill it.

Favourites for Tokyo spot

Mills and McIntyre are the favourites, but they still have to get the best possible results between now and the end of the summer.

"They think 'Hannah's going again, she's already won so she'll probably win again'," says Milla.

"But that's not sport. Sport is brutal. It just gets harder every time you go back as defending champion because people are out to beat you."

"We can definitely get better," adds McIntyre. "We just have to keep picking up those tiny things and making them better.

"Eventually those tiny things will turn into something amazing."

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