Paris Olympics 2024: Sailor Hannah Snellgrove on verge of Olympics after series of setbacks

Hannah Snellgrove competed at the Paris 2024 test event in July
Hannah Snellgrove competed in the ILCA 6 class at the Paris 2024 test event in July

"I'm going to go to the Olympics one day", a teenage Hannah Snellgrove wrote in her diary.

But it is only now, with three Games having passed since she emerged as a major talent, that the 33-year-old British sailor from Hampshire is closing in on that goal.

In that time, she has twice missed out on Olympic selection, been dropped from the British team altogether, and funded her sailing by working as a journalist and busking.

It is, she admits, "a very scenic route".

Snellgrove suffered setbacks early on in her life, missing out on a couple of years of both sailing and education while recovering from the debilitating Epstein Barr Virus.

But with London 2012 on the horizon, she was part of the British Sailing Team and in with a chance of making the Games in the Laser Radial class (now known as the ILCA 6).

It wasn't to be. Despite deferring her university studies for a year to concentrate on qualifying, she ultimately missed out on a place to team-mate Alison Young.

Then, just weeks after representing Team GB at the 2014 Sailing World Championships, she was abruptly dropped from the British set-up.

"Being dropped was a very traumatic experience," Hannah told BBC Sport. "Ultimately it is people telling you you're not good enough, and I definitely believed that myself for a long time."

Not only was it a bitter personal blow, it also meant a loss of funding and coaching.

For a while she burned through her savings to pay for things which had previously been provided, and soon had to stop sailing competitively.

Her chance for a new direction came via her local newspaper, where a couple of weeks' work experience became a freelance career.

"I did everything from the leisure pages to obituaries," she says.

"I actually really enjoyed obituaries; I found it very humbling that you would learn about someone and write up about their life."

At the same time, she started learning to play the guitar.

"Music saved me I think," she reflects now on how she coped emotionally with being dropped.

"I realised that I missed music, and decided I would teach myself guitar so I could go and play music and sing in pubs and things.

"I met a wonderful group of people who became very good friends, and it brought me back to life."

The odd gig and some busking at the weekend helped bring in a little cash, but performing wasn't always easy.

"I stopped playing music because I got so nervous that it wasn't enjoyable. So I made a decision: 'you love playing music, you need to find a way to get over the nerves and just enjoy it'.

"It's almost like putting a face on and not thinking about people watching."

A lesson she would later apply on the water.

By this time Rio 2016 had come and gone, but the yearning for competition was still there and in 2017, she independently entered both the European and World Championships.

Her performances earned her the encouragement of the then-British Laser Radial coach, John Bertrand.

"He said 'I believe in you, and I think you should put together a self-funded campaign. I'll help'."

They crowdfunded a new boat, raising £7,000 in just three weeks, found new sponsors and built a campaign for the 2018 World Championships in Denmark.

Snellgrove was still outside the British team. She remembers being interviewed on television and worrying what to wear; she couldn't use British kit.

More importantly she was still without the coaching support which comes with a national set-up, so she pooled resources with some New Zealanders.

"I still had friends in British Sailing, and of course I could talk to them, but it was a bit weird," she says now.

The effort worked, because the selectors decided it was time to bring her back.

"It felt very validating," she says.

"I think in hindsight [being dropped] was a healthy thing. It makes you appreciate that doing what you love is a very privileged thing. Sometimes it's good to tell yourself it's just a boat race!"

Back on the team, Snellgrove again had to face Olympic disappointment, as she narrowly missed out to Young again on selection for Tokyo 2020.

But now heading towards Paris 2024, and with Young retired, she is the clear British number one and qualified the country a place at the Games with a strong performance at the World Championships in the Hague.

There is still a selection decision to be made and Snellgrove refuses to take anything for granted, but does express what it would mean to finally compete at an Olympic regatta for Team GB.

"It would be a massive honour, and a fulfilment of a lot of time, effort and hard work," she said. "And I don't just mean mine, I mean a lot of people who have supported me over the years as well."