As we near the end of the Olympic Games in Rio, we can begin to reflect on a truly amazing performance by Team GB. For Hannah Mills, alumna of Howell's School, Llandaff, it has been a Games to remember as she added a prized gold medal for the women's 470 sailing event to the silver she won in London 2012.
As we applaud her stunning achievement, we look back upon what she had to say about school life and her Olympic experience, when we spoke to her back in 2012.
Hannah is what many GDST pupils past and present call a ‘lifer’: she entered Howell’s School, Llandaff at the age of six, and stayed all the way to 18. Along the way, she received not only an education, but the support and encouragement she needed to pursue her passion for sailing.
“All my teachers were brilliant,” Hannah says. “They would help me plan when to do my homework if I was going to be away, or slightly extend the deadline if there was no way of fitting it in. If they knew what I was doing in good time, we could always plan a way of getting everything done. It made it a whole lot easier having a school that was behind you.”
How did her school friends react to her sporting commitment? “My year group was pretty amazing,” she says. “I think it can be hard for girls to be sporty in school because it’s not looked upon as very cool, which is why I think a lot of girls stop. But it was never an issue for me. The girls were great and always supportive, even if they didn’t quite understand what I was doing!”
It was part of the bond that forms between them all. “Whatever we were doing,” Hannah says, “whether it was a sports match, drama or science experiment, we were always encouraged to work together, as that was the only way we would get the best results out of ourselves.”
Needless to say, Hannah formed a similar bond with her Olympics team-mate, Saskia Clark. “Sas and I pretty much lived in each other’s pockets for 18 months,” she says, “and in the build up-to the Games, everything we did was the Olympics. Everything we thought was the Olympics. It was mad. Our days would be 8-8, we would go to the gym, sail, have some meetings, make sure our boat was working properly and that nothing could be better on it, then go to sleep ready for the next day. Obviously we had days off, but to be honest we wouldn’t really be able to concentrate on anything else anyway.”
It all came to a head for Hannah and Saskia in the final race. Just one point behind the New Zealand team, and with gold in their sights, they took what seemed the best line, and found themselves ahead – but then, at precisely the wrong moment, the wind changed. “That race was the worst of my life,” Hannah says. “Unfortunately, with hindsight we know what we should have done, but that’s life and sport. After the wind-shift, it was all over, and we couldn’t come worse than second anyway, because of our points position.”
When the Games were over, Hannah revisited Howell’s as a medal-winner. “It was a brilliant day,” she says fondly. “It’s been the support of everyone, the British public, my friends and family, Howell’s School – the list goes on! It all made the Games an amazing experience, and when we were pretty low after losing the gold medal, it really picked us up and made us appreciate what we achieved. So thank you to everyone who got behind Team GB. It really was an incredible summer, and an incredible Games.”