Tokyo 2020: 'Bad thoughts drive me on' - Eilidh McIntyre, Team GB sailing partner of Hannah Mills
The 26-year-old says she has battled some dark moments to get to the point where she will partner Rio 2016 gold medallist Hannah Mills in sailing’s 470 class in Tokyo. McIntyre has been telling Eurosport how she has worked on her mental preparation to make herself a better athlete, as she looks to emulate her dad, Michael, in winning Olympic gold.
Eilidh McIntyre has spent her entire life surrounded by Olympic success, and although she will get the chance to emulate her dad Michael in Tokyo, the Team GB sailor admits there have been dark moments to come through to get to this point.
After Hannah Mills won 470 Olympic gold at Rio 2016, she found herself without a partner when Saskia Clark announced her retirement. McIntyre stepped up and earned selection with Mills for Tokyo, after years of disappointment.
The 26-year-old has been sailing all of her life and first boarded a boat in her early years thanks to her father, 1988 Seoul Olympic champion Michael McIntyre. She achieved a number of World Cup podium finishes and claimed European Championship gold in 2015, only to miss out on selection for Rio.
“I found out watching TV that we weren't selected,” McIntyre told Eurosport.
The first thing I did was sit down and I thought to myself next time, it's me, nothing's going to stop me doing that. But in order to do that, I need to go sort myself out. I'm not in a good place right now.
“I went and saw a counsellor for six months, which was a really great experience and actually helped me grow a lot as an athlete and as a person, which was really good. I also put myself in a position to learn as much as I could from Hannah and Saskia, who ultimately went on to win gold.
Eilidh McIntyre and Hannah Mills
Image credit: Getty Images
“When the Tokyo Games were postponed by a year, none of the sailors knew whether their selection would still stand. Ultimately, the entire team was retained, but it led to more anxiety for all of the athletes."
McIntyre says it was the work she put in before which saw her through it.
I very quickly came to terms with it, to be honest, I was proud of the place I'd got to, proud of the fact that I was in a position to go to the Games and challenge for gold and that was all I could ask for.
“When we weren't sure whether the Games were postponed or cancelled, I had to spend a lot of time soul searching and thinking to myself, this could be it, you know, I might not be destined to go to an Olympics and I might just have to be grateful for what I've achieved already.
“That was a particularly hard time. It still doesn't feel real yet. And I think having now had the Games taken away twice, I feel a bit more like maybe it's not going to happen until it does.”
In the five years or so since Rio, McIntyre has used the psychological work to improve her sporting performance, too. She has learned to embrace her natural character to get the best out of herself, rather than allow coaches to try and change her mindset, and it is working for her.
“I've always been a worrier and I've always thought about the bad things that can happen, but as I've grown up, I've learned I'm quite a negatively driven person,” she said.
“People used to say, don't think that, you know, you'll be drawn towards it if you think that. I've actually learned, no, I'm going to think about those bad thoughts because that's what drives me on and that's what keeps me going.
I know I'm really negatively driven - but it makes me better.
McIntyre says she has never looked at herself as the lesser known half of a team, following Mills’ previous success, but she says that her partner feels the pressure to perform. She says their sailing relationship is strong and doesn’t mind not being the centre of attention.
“I think we gravitate to the people we've heard of, and the people who have already achieved greatness. And [then there are] those people who like myself, maybe haven't earned that attention yet. We haven't reached the pinnacle of our sport.
“I think it's okay for us to be under the radar and unknown because we haven't achieved what they have.
“It's the best team I've ever been a part of and we have a very balanced partnership, a very honest and open partnership.
I really feel like we've created this space where we know that anything we say to each other is solely for performance and because we want to help each other and get better.
“I think that safe space, although things are sometimes said that might hurt you, it's come out of love and out of a place of wanting to get better. That's been really powerful in our development as a team.”
This will be the last Games that Mills and McIntyre will be able to compete as a pair, before the event becomes a mixed event in Paris. McIntyre says it will be a “relief” to finally get to an Olympics and admits going to another one is up in the air.
“The strength is the issue, and what we don't know is if there are conditions where I have to be really physical and how it weighs up with your male partner,” she said.
“I feel quite reluctant about it. It's probably a big change and it's definitely on my mind. I've always loved to do another campaign, but I only want to do it if I'm in the running.”