Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders have picked up a taste for medals lately and are keen to keep the run going and secure their first podium finish at a pinnacle regatta.
The pair have forged a good record in recent weeks, collecting silvers at both the Medemblik regatta in the Netherlands and European championships in Poland, but they've been dogged by a series of fourth placings at big events - they were fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics and have twice been fourth at world championships.
“We love fourth place,” Saunders said wryly, “but we would rather do a little better.”
They will get a chance to do that at the sailing world championships starting in Aarhus on Thursday night (NZ time) and will go in as one of the contenders in the Nacra 17 class.
All of the Olympic classes have gathered in Denmark for the four-yearly combined world championships and the regatta also doubles as the first opportunity for countries to qualify boats for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
That’s the first priority for Jones and Saunders – they need to finish among the top eight nations - but their aspirations are set a little higher.
“We always want to be on the podium at every event we go to but we definitely want to qualify the country,” Jones said. “It will be pretty hard because there are probably eight nations who could medal so that makes it difficult just to qualify the country.”
Saunders added: “Hopefully everything is in place and we can have the regatta we know we can sail. We have the potential to have a really good result here.”
A number of other New Zealand sailors will have equally high ambitions.
Alex Maloney and Molly Meech won their last regatta in the 49erFX, Sam Meech is arguably the form Laser sailor of the year, Josh Junior and Andy Maloney have made successful returns to Olympic campaigning in the Finn and finished second and third respectively at June's World Cup Series final in Marseille, Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox were leading the World Cup standings in the men’s 470 earlier in the season and one of the three 49er crews has the potential to be among the medals.
But Aarhus has attracted the biggest field ever at a world championships, with 1400 sailors from 90 countries, and they’ll also need to contend with the conditions off the Danish coast which are expected to dish up a contrast of wind strengths.
“It’s not easy [sailing here],” Jones said. “But that’s good because it will be nice to have a big range of conditions so the winner is the all-round best sailors rather than the best specialists.”
Jones and Saunders went into the year thinking they would consistently be at the pointy end of the fleet after an intense training block in New Zealand when five of the world’s top 10 combinations trained together. But their results didn’t reflect their high expectations.
“We were pretty confident we were doing something other people weren’t doing,” Saunders said. “We definitely went to [the first regatta in] Palma thinking we were going to do pretty well.”
Instead, they failed to qualify for the top 10 medal race in both Palma and the first World Cup regatta in Hyeres which forced a rethink.
“It wasn’t that nice after working so hard for so long,” Jones said. “It was a wakeup call, for sure, but there was still a lot of time to get things right for our peak event of the year.”
That event has arrived and Jones and Saunders will be doing everything they can to collect another medal.
New Zealanders competing at the sailing world championships in Aarhus (Aug 2-12)
Nacra 17: Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders; Liv Mackay and Micah Wilkinson
Laser: Sam Meech, Tom Saunders, Andrew McKenzie, George Gautrey, Matthew Kempkers
Laser Radial: Susannah Pyatt, Olivia Christie, Annabelle Rennie-Younger
Men’s 470: Paul Snow Hansen and Dan Willcox
Women’s 470: Courtney Reynolds-Smith and Brianna Reynolds-Smith
Finn: Josh Junior, Andy Maloney
49er: Josh Porebski and Trent Rippey; Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn; Isaac McHardie and William McKenzie
49erFX: Alex Maloney and Molly Meech
Men’s RS:X: Antonio Cozzolino
Women’s RS:X: Veerle ten Have
Men’s formula kite: Sam Bullock