Hannah Mills’ nervous wait lasted a bit longer than she had imagined but gold in the women’s 470 class in Tokyo made the Welshwoman the most successful female Olympic sailor in history.
The 33-year-old and crewmate Eilidh McIntyre only needed to finish in the top seven in the medal race after a dominant regatta in Enoshima and they crossed the line comfortably in fifth.
However, the French crew, who were pipped to silver by Poland, put in a protest about the British being passed by the Poles in the final stages.
That could have led to disqualification for Mills and McIntyre but the protest was dismissed and the pair were emotional as they stood on the podium with gold medals around their necks.
Mills said: “That was unexpected from our side. We want to race our race and to win a gold medal – that’s all we really cared about.
“Obviously emotions are always high, it’s pretty stressful, pretty hot out there. They came up to us a while ago, apologised, and said they completely respect what has happened. It’s all good, we have massive respect for them, they are amazing competitors.”
Mills, who carried the British flag at the opening ceremony with rower Mohamed Sbihi, won silver in London and gold in Rio with Saskia Clark in the same boat.
She and McIntyre became world champions at Enoshima in 2019, and only gold was the target here.
Mills said: “(There were) nerves like nothing else. For a long time as well. Once the Games were definitely happening, that’s when the nerves came. I just felt sick every single day – eating was a chore, sleeping was a chore.
“I just wanted to win. To be successful, to make Eilidh proud and my team proud and everyone back home proud. You want to come to an Olympic Games and deliver – it’s a lot of pressure.
“It felt like Christmas this morning. A really nervous Christmas. It’s a massive relief. Just so happy, we worked so hard for this. We put everything we are into this.”
Mills considered joining Clark in retiring after Rio but was talked into one more Olympic campaign by a phone call from McIntyre, who follows in the footsteps of her father Mike – the gold medallist in the Star class at the Seoul Games in 1988.
“He’s been my inspiration my entire life,” said the 27-year-old, who had her father’s medal hanging on the wall outside her bedroom growing up.
“I’ve always dreamed of having one of these and here I am and I just can’t believe it. It’s been such a fight and such a long journey and it feels like 25 years of dreaming.
“This is what we came for. We weren’t after anything else. That is what I said in the phone call – I want to win gold with you and nothing else is going to do, and here we are and that’s wicked.”
Mills welcomed the move to make the 470 a mixed boat for the Paris Games, and McIntyre is planning to compete again, but this is the end of the Olympic journey for the Welsh sailor.
Mills’ other passion is sustainability and reducing the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans, and she hopes to make that her new career.
She said: “It definitely could be my last ever race. I want to really pursue that avenue and help make the world what it needs to be.”
The victory continued a hugely successful two days for Britain’s sailors, with Mills and McIntyre making it three gold medals after success for Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell in the 49er and Giles Scott in the Finn on Tuesday.
It is the country’s second best Olympic tally after Beijing in 2008, when they won six medals, including four golds.
There was disappointment, though, for 2012 silver medallist Luke Patience and Chris Grube in the men’s 470.
They were sitting second after eight races but dropped to fifth ahead of the medal race and that was where they finished having crossed the line in seventh.