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Meet The Crew // Hannah Mills, MBE

22 APRIL 2021News
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  • Great Britain

Hannah Mills is an Olympic Gold medallist and three-time World Champion in the Women’s 470 class. She has a vast amount of professional sailing experience, winning her first World Championship 15 years ago in 2006, her first Olympic medal (Silver) in the London 2012 Games and bringing home an Olympic Gold medal together with Saskia Clark in Rio 2016. Now, however, she faces a completely new challenge in the foiling F50 catamarans, as the Great Britain SailGP Team’s first triallist in the Female Development Programme for SailGP Season 2.

The Female Development Programme is a new initiative kickstarted by SailGP for the new season which starts this weekend in Bermuda. It is an initiative which aims to fast-track the inclusion of female athletes into SailGP. In introducing the initiative SailGP has taken decisive action to create and implement a plan for female inclusion in the global championship, with immediate effect. Hannah is the team’s first triallist. Over the course of the first three events of SailGP Season 2, six female athletes will trial with the team, after which a decision will be made on the successful athletes who will join the British team full-time.

For Hannah, who was born in Wales and first learned to sail at the Cardiff Sailing Centre, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she is keen to capitalise on.

“It’s an incredible opportunity and it’s come at the perfect time for me”, she explained. “I will be retiring from Olympic sailing this summer after Tokyo, so, if I earn the spot, SailGP has come at the right time for me to progress my sailing career beyond the Olympics. That has not really been an option in the past for female sailors.

“I’m really excited to work with the team and learn as much as I can. There are a lot of incredible female sailors in Great Britain, so it will be tough to earn the spot on the team. I am a quick learner and a hard worker so I will try and make the most of the opportunity in front of me. If I am the right person for the job, then that would be awesome!”

In SailGP each team races aboard a F50 catamaran. It a revolutionary concept in sailing and the culmination of 10 years of development in high-performance, foiling, multihull racing. It was also the first boat ever to hit 50 knots during racing. It is a big technological leap forward from the 470s that Hannah has been used to competing in throughout her professional career, but it is one that, needless to say, she can’t wait to get to grips with.

“The boats look incredible, I was a huge fan of Season 1 and strongly believe that Sail GP is a great platform to build the profile of sailing and bring it to a wider audience. The line-up this year is incredible - it’s exactly who we all want to see on the start line battling it out.”

Whilst the competitive racer inside Hannah can’t wait get to get racing in earnest aboard the F50, she is very aware of her platform as female role model in a sport that has been to date dominated by men. Alongside her passion for promoting women’s sport, Hannah has been well-known throughout her career for leading from the front when it comes to sustainability. That combination is simply another reason why she believes SailGP would make the perfect next step in her professional sailing career.

“I want to work within sport and sustainability and use the incredible platform sport has to help tackle the climate crisis. SailGP has some great sustainability initiatives and goals which I would love to be involved more with in the future.

“It’s also really inspiring to see how SailGP is looking to include females at this level. They have a well thought out process to bridge the experience gap women are currently lacking in this area of our sport. It will be incredibly inspiring for female sailors, whatever stage of their careers in sailing. I can only imagine how I would have felt growing up and watching women sail on these types of boats.

“Sailing, like many other sports, has a long way to go to become fully inclusive. It is a sport, however, as SailGP is now starting to show, that is in a good position to lead the change as there are many roles within sailing teams where female athletes can perform exceptionally well given the opportunity. I really believe that the steps SailGP are making could be the beginning of a whole new era for women in sailing. I feel incredibly excited for young female sailors and the opportunities they might gain.”

Hannah’s aspirations for a more inclusive sport and a more sustainable world have driven her throughout her career, but for now her focus is very much on Bermuda. She is more than aware that she is the first of several impressive athletes to trial with the team and will be sure to make the most of her short opportunity to impress.

“I can’t wait to get out on the F50. Bermuda is an incredible place to sail with the most beautiful clear blue waters. There will be so much to learn but I love a challenge, it motivates me and inspires me to work hard.

“The GBR squad is obviously exceptionally strong, with tonnes of experience sailing these boats. I think the team will be very competitive very quickly and it’s exciting to be a part of that. It will certainly help me get up to speed as quickly as possible.

“I first met Ben [Ainslie] at an Optimist event when I was an over excited 11-year-old and he’d won his first Olympic medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Roll on another 10 years or so and we were in the same team going to London 2012 - my first Games and Ben’s final Games. It was massive for me to be in a team with Ben, watch how he operated and learn from him. The same will be true during this trip for sure.”

British fans will be able to watch all the action live on Sky Sports, SailGP’s Official Broadcast Partner in the UK, who will air each of the global races live, starting with the Bermuda Grand Prix on April 24/25.