Roll Tacks - June 2014

Finn sailors around the world must have breathed a sigh of relief when Ben Ainslie hung up his hiking pads after squeaking that fourth gold medal at London 2012. When Sir Ben said that he was signing off from his glittering Olympic career to focus on the America’s Cup, there were times when I wondered if he would do a ‘Redgrave’ and make a comeback for Rio 2016. But Ben’s hopes and plans for his own Cup campaign seem to be coming together nicely and so we will see a new face representing Great Britain in the men’s heavyweight singlehander, a class that GBR has dominated since Iain Percy won the first of his gold medals at Sydney 2000.  

So, who will be next? After seeing Giles Scott win the European Championships at La Rochelle by more than 50 points, Andrew Mills reckons he knows. For the past few years Andrew has been part of the phenomenally successful British Finn squad, and finished a very creditable 6th place in La Rochelle. Yet he has decided to retire at the age of 28, at the top of his game. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he was made an offer for a proper job in the City that he couldn’t refuse.  

It all comes down to that ‘one sailor per country’ rule that governs selection for the Olympic Games. “I look at it in terms of what the British selectors would do. I think if the next two years went perfectly, I could reach a level somewhere near Giles. But for the selectors, they are going to say, ‘There's a guy who's been performing at this level for four or five years,’ or ‘This guy has been performing at this level for two years.’ I would expect they would choose Giles. I would do the same if I was the selector at that point.”  

For Andrew, being part of such a strong British squad is a “double-edged sword”. He says: “I think the reason that we get such good results is somebody new comes in to the squad and immediately there are three, four guys in the top 10 in the world, and if you train with these people it brings you up to speed very quickly. The squad is a great fun place to be. I have been doing this for, I guess, six, seven years full-time. Mark Andrews and Giles Scott would be the ones I spent the most time with, they are very good friends and we had a good time. There's a good relationship which pushes each other on the water yet managing to be friends off the water. Some of the things that go on, on the water, you'd be amazed at, but everyone has the maturity to put it behind them. Two hours later, all best of friends on land! This allows you to push each other. On the water it’s every man for himself, but if you had a lot of enemies in the squad and you travelled around the world, you’d be pretty lonely.”  

Andrew has run his sailing campaign based on the notion that hard work is definitely the more valuable asset than raw talent, yet ultimately he believes Giles has that something extra that he would be hard pushed to match had Andrew decided to continue in the Finn. “Giles can make a boat go exceptionally fast for reasons that you can't always tell. I think that comes down to very good feel and how he steers the boat, how he trims the boat. You can have your boat running at what you think is absolutely 100%. You think you couldn't get it to go any quicker and Giles would be at the same speed or sometimes a little bit quicker. He's got a little bit of something else that helps him make that boat go that bit faster, and you see that all the time in training and you become aware that it's quite hard to get past.”  

Andrew has had some other amazing moments in his career, competing on the AC45s in the America’s Cup World Series, and breaking the Round the Island Race record last summer with Ben Ainslie on the AC45. With very few crew required for the AC62s and the number of teams looking limited for the next America’s Cup, however, he didn’t see many opportunities to make his way as a full-time professional in that world. But he fully intends to continue racing, and next on his agenda is racing the Etchells' World Championship in Newport, Rhode Island, with Nils Razmilovic and Brian Hammersley.  

Meanwhile, he is looking forward to getting suited and booted for Citibank’s graduate programme. “Hopefully, in a couple of years, I'll be a trader in the City. My degree was based around that and it’s something that I find very interesting. I've always kept track of the markets whilst I've been sailing. For me it's incredibly exciting, I'm leaving one incredible lifestyle in sailing and campaigning, and moving into another. A lot of people think I'm moving into a boring office job, but in fact that’s something I am really looking forward to. I think you just miss the physical adrenalin rush of sailing. Buckets of water flying over your face...The adrenalin rush will be of a slightly different type. But being out in the elements - that’s the main thing I’ll miss about the sailing.”  




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