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Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox

Big month coming up for NZ 470 pair

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The Olympic countdown clocked ticked over into the final 12 months recently but it wasn't something Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox dwelled on too much.

After all, the pair have a couple of pretty significant events coming up in the shape of the 470 world championships and Olympic test event, both to be sailed at the Olympic venue in Enoshima.

They will go in with plenty of optimism after being among the world's best in 2019. They won their first World Cup Series regatta in Genoa in April and followed it up with third at the 470 European championships in San Remo the following month.

"I checked Instagram the other day to see it was one year to go to the Olympics," Snow-Hansen said. "We have been putting a lot of effort into this year and these worlds. This pre-Olympics period is a great time to test your systems and routines. Thinking one year ahead is great but we are spending a bit more time on the now."

Part of that approach is based on experience that things can change very quickly in sailing. This year might be going well for the pair but things didn't always fall their way in 2018.

"Last year we were scratching on the door," Willcox said. "We had so many regattas where it could have gone either way to get on the podium. We did that once [with bronze at the World Cup Series] in Hyeres and came close at others.

"This year things have been going our way in the medal races and we’ve managed to get on that podium at two events. That brings a bit of confidence to what we are doing and how we operate, especially going into a world championships. We can take a lot of positivity from the season so far and keep trucking along."

That starts in Enoshima on Sunday afternoon (NZ time) and there will be something special about having a 470 world championships in Japan.

Not only is it the year's pinnacle event for the class but it will also be raced on the same waters as the Tokyo Olympics exactly 12 months later and at the spiritual home of the boat.

Although the 470 was designed by a Frenchman in the early 1960s, it is massive in Japan and as many as 100 boats took part in their national championships. They love the history and tradition of the class, as well as some of the technology that goes into it, and it's favoured by the university sailing programmes.

"It’s phenomenal sailing the 470 class in Japan," Snow-Hansen said. "It’s the boat the Japanese embrace, the fleet numbers domestically are huge and the chandleries are full of equipment. It’s 470 world in Japan. That atmosphere rubs off on you. A world champs in Japan is special."

The 470 world championships have been held only once in New Zealand in 1984, when a certain Hamish Willcox (Dan's father) combined with David Barnes to win the last of their three world titles.

Snow-Hansen and Willcox won a silver at the 2016 worlds in Argentina and have three other top-10 finishes since teaming up in 2013. Their relationship dates back long before then, with both representing New Zealand at the 2004 Optimist world championships when Snow-Hansen was second and Willcox fourth.

"We take comfort in the fact this will be Snowy’s third Olympics and it will be our second as a team," Willcox said. "We feel like we are now becoming one of the more experienced teams in the 470 class and I think we can use our experience to our advantage.

"It’s exciting to be racing on Olympic waters and getting comfortable with the venue and we really want to do well at both the worlds and test event."

  • Pic: Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox won April's World Cup Series regatta in Genoa. Photo: Sailing Energy / World Sailing.