Danny Mills’ son George on relentless work to realise Olympic dream

George Mills of Great Britain competes during the 1500m heats at the 2023 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul
George Mills has already run the qualifying time for the Paris OIympics - Getty Images/Michael Steele

“Stripped back, basic running.” That is what George Mills says is his favourite thing and when you hear that even his father – the former Premier League player Danny Mills – has been shocked by the required lifestyle, you get a sense of a runner’s dedication. “I’m just happy to wake up, train, have lunch, sleep, train again, dinner, go to bed,” says George.

But what about popping out to a coffee shop or a restaurant?

“I don’t need a coffee shop, don’t need somewhere to go for dinner,” he says of a life spent largely at altitude training camps in Austria and South Africa and regularly running more than 200 kilometres a week in pursuit of reaching the Olympic Games this summer.

Indeed, Danny, the former England right-back who famously played for Leeds United and Manchester City, likes to tell a story of how he once went to visit his son at the On Club’s winter base in Dullstroom and suggested that they head out for some food. The answer was a straight ‘no’ on account of the very specific food that was needed that evening in advance of training the following day.

George Mills with a medal around his neck and his father Danny by his side
Danny Mills has supported his son George's athletics career since he was young

“My approach is that you get one career and it’s very short,” says George. “I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I am doing what I love to do. It is what you have to do if you want to get to the top. You cannot live a normal life. It has been two-and-a-half years of head down, hard work, basically doing nothing else other than training.”

Mills, who is 25, describes his training bases as “small quiet places” where he is part of an international team of seven men and six women who are also living the same obsessive lifestyle. Saturday, though, will see the first big championship test of the season when Mills, who already has the required Olympic qualifying time, will take on Norway’s double world champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 5000m European Championship final inside Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

Danny never actually played inside what is a 70,000 capacity stadium – he was twice on the bench during European fixtures for Leeds – but will be in the stands on Saturday night with the family to cheer on his son.

Mills has run times already this season that are among the fastest by a British athlete over 1500m and 5000m, with his 12min 58.68sec over the longest distance – which he ran indoors – being within range of Mo Farah’s British record of 12-53.11. “I have been recently watching a lot of his races, doing a lot of homework, just to learn and see what the 5k races can be like,” says Mills.

Of the prospect of emulating Josh Kerr and Jake Wightman by beating Ingebrigtsen at a major championships, Mills says: “There’s every part of you that goes into a race thinking, ‘I can beat anyone who is there’. But then you have to be realistic with it. He has won the last two world championships. Jakob is bloody good – very, very strong. I will try to put myself in the best position to be up there and do it.”

Any sort of medal would represent an outstanding progression but, judging by the celebrations when he achieved the Olympic standard in January, there would be no chance of getting carried away. “I went back home after that race, cooked dinner as normal, went to bed, got up, went training the next day – I am very much, ‘OK, tick, tick, tick’,” he says. “I don’t want to divert in any way. It’s constant focus, discipline and all-round hard work.”

Danny Mills pats his son George's head as he leans over the advertising hoardings after a race
Danny Mills often travels to support George's athletics career

And, given his father’s footballing success and the fact that his younger brother Stan is a winger for Everton, would he say that his athletics prowess is more down to talent or hard work?

“From this winter, I have done a lot of weeks over 200 kilometres a week…. I’d say that would probably lean more to hard work than talent. That question answers itself if you look at the training.”

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