A handful of New Zealand sailors will look to end the year on a high when Sail Sydney gets underway tomorrow, including a gaggle of Laser sailors who have developed healthy competition over the past 12 months.
The aim of any Olympic programme is to have competition and depth and it’s exactly what is transpiring in the Laser class in this country.
Olympic bronze medallist Sam Meech is being challenged by the likes of Tom Saunders and Andrew McKenzie and all three have achieved good results in 2017.
Meech won his first World Cup regatta in Gamagori in October and was also third at the world championships test event, Saunders was eighth at the world championships and followed that by taking out Enoshima Olympic Week at the venue to be used for the 2020 Tokyo Games and McKenzie was third at the Laser European championships.
Only one can earn selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics so are fierce competitors but they can only achieve success by working together to push each other along.
The trio will be among a handful of Kiwi sailors competing at Sail Sydney this week in their final regatta of 2017.
“All three have had good success this year and it’s building depth in the class and, importantly, a quality training group,” Yachting New Zealand high performance manager Ian Stewart said. “The bar has been set pretty high by Sam and they are all well placed to push on.
“They already have an Olympic bronze medallist in there and if they are chasing Sam along and keeping each other honest, it bodes well. It’s exactly what we want in a high performance programme.”
It's what happened in the last Olympic cycle, when Meech narrowly earned selection ahead of Andy Maloney for the Rio Olympics. Maloney is now campaigning in the heavyweight dinghy Finn class.
Also on the radar is George Gautrey, who has moved up to the Laser standard after winning silver in the Laser Radial at the 2015 youth sailing world championships.
The Laser is traditionally one of the biggest and most competitive fleets in the Olympic classes and Sail Sydney will also feature Olympic champion Tom Burton as well as fellow Australian and close rival Matt Wearn, who was third behind Burton at this year’s Laser world championships. Burton won Sail Melbourne last week ahead of Wearn.
Sail Melbourne and Sail Sydney make up the first two legs of the Tasman Series, with the final event February’s Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta at Murrays Bay, this country’s top regatta for Olympic and youth classes.
Good competition is also emerging in the 49erFX, where Olympic silver medallists Alex Maloney and Molly Meech are being pushed by Erica Dawson and Kate Stewart, who were 13th in their first world championships together. Both crews will also race in Sydney, with Maloney and Meech favourites to take out the gold.
Three New Zealand crews will be in the 49er – Josh Porebski and Trent Rippey, Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn and Isaac McHardie and William McKenzie - and all three have the potential to be in the mix.
“There will be some decent competition assembled in Sydney so it’s a pretty purposeful event,” Stewart said. “We want to see our sailors all pushing at the front of the fleets and finish the year off strongly.”
Four days of racing in the Olympic classes starts on Sydney harbour on Monday.