Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are used to standing on the podium, but in recent events, the British 470 sailors have struggled to reach the pinnacle. All of that changed in Abu Dhabi, when Mills and Clark broke their silver streak to take home gold at October’s ISAF Sailing World Cup Final.
“The medalists were all very established sailors so we stayed very close together,” says Clark of the eight-boat fleet. “All of our results were in the top three. The Austrians had an OCS [in race 2], which put them in a precarious position with the rest of their results. That gave us an extra advantage.”
With top-three finishes in all but one race, consistency again paid off in the 470 class. “The big step forward we took over the winter was stripping back how we communicate and make our decisions together,” says Clark. “It has paid dividends…we’ve gone into the medal races at each event with a realistic chance of winning gold.”
At the Aquece Rio Test Event in August, the medal race was expected to be a showdown for gold between the British team and US Sailing Team Sperry’s Annie Hager and Briana Provancha. According to Clark, the communication aboard the British boat “completely failed,” resulting in an OCS. Coupled with a penalty later in the same race, Mills and Clark ended up in second, and the Americans got the gold.
Clark and Mills were determined to solve the problem that kept them from the top spot. “We lost our way a little bit at the test event. In Abu Dhabi, we wanted to make sure we have a system to keep doing the next right thing.”
Comfortable on a full-sized course with only eight boats racing, Mills and Clark were able to hone in on their communication and nailed race after race, placing them firmly atop the podium at the regatta’s conclusion. The following day, they flew back to the UK for a month off before their next key event, the Copa de Brazil in December.
“Rio is a tricky venue,” says Clark. “Every moment we spend their learning the conditions and the style of sailing is valuable. Whether its changing equipment or refining it, it’s important to do it there.”
As the pair gather their boats and containers from the various competition sites they’ve visited in the past handful of months, they remain looking forward to the ultimate goal: continuing their medal streak, hopefully of the gold variety, all the way to the Olympic podium in August 2016.