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Mills aims to show that her golden dream can come true.

Byline: GARETH GRIFFITHS

* N inner confidence in their own ability makes Olympians stands out from the crowd.

Well, Cardiff sailing star and London 2012 hopeful Hannah Mills has had that from a young age.

In 2002, when Hannah was just 14, she met secretary of state for culture, media and sport Tessa Jowell who was working on the bid to bring the Olympics to London.

The story goes when she was introduced to Jowell, Mills told her if London won the bid for the Olympics she'd win sailing gold.

"I can't remember the exact conversation, but those words might have come out of my mouth," laughed Mills when reminded of the incident. "When you are younger you always have this inner belief. But I still have that belief in myself and think it is a realistic goal. It's probably a lot more realistic now than it was then!" Fast forward to 2011, the 23-year-old remains on course to realise her Olympic dream in a pairs event.

Mills joined forces with Saskia Clark in late February after the latter's former partner Sarah Ayton abruptly quit the 470 class.

With only one pair able to compete in Weymouth and Portland next year, Mills and Clark took a significant step towards securing their place at the Games by grabbing silver at the Sail for Gold Regatta to earn a chance to represent Britain in next month's Olympic Test.

They have won three medals in the four events they have competed in together, with a bronze in the European Championships in Helsinki earlier this month.

"We only started sailing together this year," added Mills. "We have known each other for four years and I have wanted to sail with her for a while.

"It has been all about timing and I got that chance.We gelled straight away and I've been surprised at how well the partnership has worked."

Mills has been destined for great things ever since she started sailing on a family holiday in Cornwall when she was nine.

Born and brought up in Dinas Powys and a former pupil of Howells school in Cardiff, Mills honed her sailing love as she broke into the Welsh Optimists squad.

She rose through the Great Britain ranks and has won a series of British, European and world titles in a glittering junior career competing as an individual and in pairs.

"I just fell in love with the sport," explained Mills, a former winner of the Western Mail Sport Star award.

"I was playing a lot of tennis, but started to experience knee problems and could not play as much as I liked. So I got into sailing and worked up to the British squad.

"I qualified for the Olympic training squad when I was 18 by winning the Youth World Championships."

Mills knows she has her family to thank for fuelling the hobby which would become her profession and her friends for supporting her.

"With sailing, you end up all over the country and your poor parents have to ferry you around which is quite demanding," she said.

"It takes a lot of dedication to take you all around the country and give time up. A lot of my school friends didn't understand why I spent so much time sailing. But they do now and I remain close to them."

Mills, who has since completed two years of a mechanical engineering degree in Bristol University and deferred the third year to concentrate on her Olympic goal, has been based full-time in Weymouth for the last two years.

"Becoming full-time has been a massive change for me," admitted Mills. "You don't appreciate how different your life is going to be.

"Sailing is not a sport that people really understand, but hopefully that will change after the Olympics. It is growing slowly and people are becoming more aware of it.

"The home Olympics will help that and hopefully we can win some more medals."

Weymouth is also the destination where Mills hopes she can cement her Olympic spot at the Test event at the start of August.

"That is our key focus," she added. "It is a huge event and being in the team environment as the British group will be a new, different experience.

"It will be invaluable if we qualify for the Olympics because this will be the most realistic opportunity to replicate this event.

"The main aim is to get the gold medal because there is no other reason to compete in an Olympics."

Now where have we heard that before?

CAPTION(S):

* Hannah Mills, right, and Saskia Clark in action for Great Britain during a 470 class race in the Skandia Sail For Gold Regatta at Weymouth last month PICTURE: Getty Images
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 28, 2011
Words:790
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