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Cambridge graduate Hannah Snellgrove earns Team GB place for Olympic Games in Paris

One of the more common refrains used by athletes reflecting on misfortune is that ‘everything happens for a reason’ – but do not tell that to Hannah Snellgrove.

As a sailor who was dropped from the national programme in 2014, crowdfunded to buy a boat in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to qualify for Tokyo 2020, and then saw her Paris dreams thrust into doubt by a serious back injury, the 33-year-old Cambridge graduate would have more reason than most to fall back on the phrase.

But as she prepares to make her Olympic debut having been selected as Team GB’s representative in the ILCA 6 class, the former Gonville & Caius student is not willing to accept it as a way of explaining away her testing times.

Hannah Snellgrove will represent Team GB at this year’s Olympics. Picture: British Sailing
Hannah Snellgrove will represent Team GB at this year’s Olympics. Picture: British Sailing

“I hate that phrase,” she said. “I always think that’s very unfair on people who unfair things happen to, so I don’t subscribe to it at all.

“Some things are just really hard and can be unfair. But what I would say is that you can learn from everything that happens.

“There are ways of dealing with things and different approaches you can take to setbacks. It either knocks you or you learn from it.”

Snellgrove has opted for the latter, both upon losing her funding a decade ago and more recently when she suffered a slipped disc in 2022, leading to doubts as to whether she would ever sail competitively again.

Her time in the ‘real world’ involved two years at her local newspaper, unsuccessfully applying for a job with MI5, playing at folk festivals with her band and generally gaining a sense of perspective which proved pivotal when she opted to return to the water.

“It is something I’ve really drawn on,” she said. “I’ve retired before, badly, it turns out, as I came back, but I have seen there is a life after sailing and I was quite happy in that life.

“It has become a bit of a super strength. There were times last year I had a bit of a disaster in a regatta but I’d be able to bounce back and maintain a cool head.

“I had a really hard start to the Olympic test event last year, the first exposure I had to the Olympic environment where there is only one GBR boat in each class.

“For the first time, you are comparing yourself to how other classes are doing, which you never have to do outside the Olympics.

“I had a poor start, I was really judging myself, and it was my birthday, which didn’t help!

“But I was very level-headed for the rest of the regatta, kept chipping away with top eights, and finished inside the top 10.”

An 11th-placed finish at the World Championships later the same year was enough to qualify Team GB a quota spot but Snellgrove was kept waiting before having her own place confirmed.

Ten sailors were announced last October and having missed out on selection for London and Tokyo, her joy is joined by relief at finally knowing she will join her team-mates in Marseille.

“It feels a little bit surreal, to be honest,” said Snellgrove. “It’s something I have worked towards for so long. It is 26 years since I first set foot in a boat, 17 years since I decided it would be good to go to an Olympics one day.

“It’s overwhelming and so exciting. I can’t wait for the summer.”

Aldi are proud Official Partners of Team GB & ParalympicsGB, supporting all athletes through to Paris 2024.

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