It’s often said long distance relationships don’t work but Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders hope it will be the ingredient that helps deliver them Olympic gold.
The Nacra 17 pair, who finished fourth in Rio, have decided to put together another Olympic campaign. One of the main features of that sees Saunders live in France and Jones spend most of her time in New Zealand.
It might seem an unworkable situation in a two-handed class but the pair believe it will be more advantageous than during their Rio campaign.
“I think there are a lot benefits to having a good solid base in Europe,” Saunders said. “Having me set up in France, I can handle when shipping arrives and even just having a place to store some gear sometimes.
“We spend so much time in Europe anyway. I think what we decided is we don’t like moving from hotel to hotel. It’s quite tiring. It will be nice to be able to relax a bit more in Europe. I will be coming back to train in New Zealand. I think it can work better than it has for us previously.”
Jones and Saunders have only recently jumped back into a boat together, finishing second in the recent world championships test event in Aarhus. That was a notable achievement given the lack of time they had spent together in the new foiling Nacra 17s but what was more newsworthy was the fact the medal races were cancelled after a problem was found with the foils and the first batch of new boats were recalled for repairs.
It briefly put this week's Nacra world championships in doubt but they will now go ahead as scheduled in Grand Motte, France. Racing for the 50 combinations gets underway on Tuesday night (NZ time).
“If we sail well, we think we are definitely in with a shot of a podium, and that’s always the goal at the worlds,” Saunders said. “We definitely have the tools to go out there and put in a really good result.”
Jones and Saunders have been adding to their toolbox this year by sailing a number of different boats with different people. Jones trialled for the NZL Sailing Team for this year’s Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, missing out at the final cut, and also competed in a host of match racing and M32 events.
Saunders finished third in the famed Tour de France – the sailing version – in July and also won a leg of the Flying Phantom Series attached to the Extreme Sailing Series.
“You learn a lot from different people you sail with,” Jones said. “It’s not always directly related but you get a broader base and it will help us. We might not see the results initially but I think in the long term it’s going to be our best option.”
So could the option of Jones helming and Saunders crewing.
The Nacra 17s are a mixed class and most up to this point have opted for the male on the tiller and female as crew. But the new foiling catamarans are even more physical than the old version and there are also plans to have up to four races a day.
The pair will, though, come under pressure to remain as the top New Zealand crew over the Olympic cycle with youngsters Olivia Mackay and Micah Wilkinson showing considerable potential in the class.
That’s not the only motivation for Jones and Saunders.
“It was pretty tough taking fourth [in Rio],” Saunders said. “No one wants to take the leather medal home but someone has to, I suppose. It was really tough to take initially, just knowing how close it was on points to first. We have had a bit of time now to think about it and we will give it another crack. We can learn a lot from what we did wrong.
“We just feel like we’ve got a lot more to give and we didn’t show everyone the best of us. The new style of sailing with the foiling boats and fast racing, having 3-4 races a day, it’s physical for the crew. We both really like that style of racing and see the potential. I think we can come away with the gold medal.”