An eighth in today’s double points Medal Race confirmed what had been delayed for 24 hours after yesterday’s postponement for lack of breeze – that the British 470 Girls’ had upgraded their London 2012 silver to Rio 2016 gold. Knowing they had to avoid disqualification or race retirement to win gold, Mills and Clark sailed a safety first Medal Race, not getting involved in any start line positional jostling and sailing behind the fleet to move clear away from the line.
Staying out of the pack was a tactic they continued employing for the whole race, and as they crossed the line and came ashore without incident the emotions started to pour. Mills said: “We ran down the beach. I just wanted to see my mum, she’s been here the whole time supporting me, along with my family back at home. It is just such an amazing moment to be able to share with everyone. When you’re out on the water you’re doing it on your own and it was nice to be able to come in and see everyone.
Saskia said: “I can’t stop smiling. It’s been amazing winning a medal with one of my best mates and Joe (Glanfield), our coach is an absolute legend. We’re going to have some drinks with our friends, our families and the whole British Sailing Team who have been here the whole way, we wouldn’t be here without them, so it’ll be nice to have a few quiet drinks with the rest of the team.”
Mills and Clark had a 20-point advantage over their nearest challengers and London 2012 champions, Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, (NZL), heading into the Medal Race, and while the Kiwis still had a slim chance for gold, realistically it was more about hanging on to silver in a nail-biter of a final showdown to decide the podium positions.
In fantastic conditions of 20 knots, medal contenders Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha (USA) headed out to the first mark quickest, with Afrodite Zegers and Anneloes Van Veen (NED), also in with an outside medal shout, and World Champions, Camille Lecointre and Helene Defrance, firmly in the hunt too.
A big wind shift, combined with a penalty for infringing the Japanese team, on the final downwind leg ended the Americans dreams as Aleh and Powrie clinched silver while Lecointre and Defrance narrowly edged out the Dutch for bronze by one point.
The race was won by Tina Mrak and Veronik Macarol (SLO). But all of this was of little consequence to Mills and Clark, whose unerring consistency throughout the opening series saw them end the event with a 10-point victory margin.
Mills added: “That last race was really hard. We had to finish the Medal Race, but at the same time there was a massive battle behind us for silver and bronze and we didn’t want to be the boat that tacked on someone, causing them to lose a medal. We honestly just tried to stay out of it, it was the right thing to do.”
Clark said: “It wasn’t a forgone conclusion today; we knew we could have lost the medal. We didn’t want to look stupid stood here without a medal after everyone had already been cheering for us, so we knew we had to be sensible and just do the same boring routine things that we’ve been doing for the last ten days. The big fear was suffering a breakage, such as the mast breaking, so we couldn’t finish the race.”
This is 28-year-old Mills’ second Olympics while Clark, who celebrates her 37th birthday next Tuesday (23 August), is competing at her third Games having finished sixth at Beijing 2008 with Christina Bassadone.