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INTERVIEW-Sailing-Golden Mills in uncharted waters after Rio win

| WEYMOUTH AND PORTLAND, England, Sept 16

WEYMOUTH AND PORTLAND, England, Sept 16 Winning gold at last month's Rio Olympics was about "righting a wrong" for Hannah Mills after the agony she and Saskia Clark felt when then they landed silver in the 470 dinghy category in 2012.

But even with the gleaming new medal in her hands, the 28-year-old Welsh sailor cannot quite believe she has achieved her ambition as she looks out over the waters off Weymouth and Portland where she lives and trains.

"The initial feeling was...complete elation that we sort of righted what we felt we wronged in London 2012," Mills told Reuters in an interview.

"For us Rio was all about getting the gold medal."

Her Olympic regatta could easily have been over before it began. Mills said she was hit by a virus five days before the start, something the team kept under wraps.

Mills and Clark, 37, were unable to get back in their boat until racing began and although she had shaken off the virus, she was still nursing a nasty cold that she had to leave ashore as she adopted her on-the-water "race face", her eyes giving nothing away behind the Team GB sunglasses.

As she sped across the sparkling waters of Portland Harbour, a smiling Mills said it was "surreal" to be back aboard a 470 for the first time since winning gold in Brazil, partly because she is not sure if she will race one again.

That will depend among other things on which boats are selected for the Tokyo Games. There has been media speculation that the men's and women's events will be combined in a mixed 470 category.

For Mills, who weighs 49-50 kilogrammes, her options are limited by her size.

"It's certainly something I would consider. I'm quite a relaxed person so I would probably fit well into a different team," she said.

But the longer the uncertainty goes on the harder it will be to sort out crews, equipment and training.

COMMUNICATION KEY

Mills talks freely, her instructions clear, calm and encouraging as she tweaks the dinghy's controls to maximise its speed.

Communication was one of the elements, along with their equipment, that Mills and Clark worked on most intensively following their 2012 Olympic experience.

They enlisted the help of a sports psychologist who with their coach Joe Glandfield dismantled their relationship to work out how they could improve and deal with stressful situations.

The result, says Mills, was that both sailors learned how to draw more out of each other on the water, confronting any problems immediately rather than letting them simmer.

Mills thinks Clark is unlikely to take on another Olympic campaign, although she admits you can "never say never" of her friend, for whom years of crewing a 470 have taken their toll.

Getting on and off the "wire", the trapeze from which the crew of a 470 must suspend themselves over the water to balance the dinghy, is tough on your knees and back, as is ducking under the boom each time the boat tacks or gybes and even after an hour's sailing in a light breeze you feel the effects.

Mills is now at the sailing equivalent of a crossroads, taking stock and working out what she wants to do next.

"There's quite a void after the Games that you need to fill with something... you don't straight away have the motivation to go sailing again," Mills says back on dry land.

She is using time off from the British Sailing team programme to spend a month doing work experience with a sailing clothing brand and another with an accountancy firm.

Whatever she ends up doing, either on or off the water, Mills says the friendship she has formed during nearly six years sailing, training and socialising with Clark will be a constant.

"We get on so well, we have such a great time together and I think we really respect each other...It's just nice to have those people in your life isn't it." (Editing by Toby Davis)

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