Many of New Zealand’s leading sailors will this week get a second – and final – opportunity to secure a spot at the Olympic test event in July – a key pit stop in the race to the Paris Games in just over 15 months.
And, if the absorbing battle between Kiwi teammates at the first event of the new European season in Spain was any indication, the feathers are set to fly as they aim for a podium place at the French Olympic Week regatta from tonight (NZ time).
A total of 27 of the country’s Olympic hopefuls will line up in seven classes in Hyères, a fortnight after the squad claimed an impressive four medals at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma de Mallorca.
The pick of that haul was the gold won by Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn in the 49er, after a close contest with compatriots Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie.
Dunning Beck and Gunn triumphed after finishing second in the medal race, displacing McHardie and McKenzie who wore the yellow bibs heading into the double-points finale.
McHardie and McKenzie took bronze after finishing the medal race in ninth.
While encouraged by the Kiwi contingent's start to the European season, Yachting New Zealand’s High Performance Director Ian Stewart said it was only the early stages of a key part of the Olympic cycle.
“The sailors put in a lot of hard work during the New Zealand summer, and it is rewarding to see that we are not far off the pace - but it is only the first of a number of events as we edge closer to the Olympics,” Stewart said.
For many of the sailors, Hyères represents a final chance to book a spot at the Olympic test event in Marseille in July – at the same venue where sailing will take place during the Games.
The Princess Sofia Regatta was the other qualifying competition.
“While it has no bearing on qualification for the Olympics itself, anyone competing at the Games will recognise the value in racing at the same venue and against similar competition to what they’ll encounter in Paris next year,” Stewart said.
He was especially pleased by the close racing between the 49er crews, as well as Tom Saunders and George Gautrey in the ILCA 7 (Laser) fleet.
Gautrey claimed silver after victory in the medal race catapulted him from fifth overall, while former world champion Saunders dropped from second to fifth after a false start on the final day.
Veerle ten Have won bronze in the women’s IQFOIL – her first podium on the international stage since swapping windsurfing for windfoiling just over a year ago, while Josh Armit narrowly missed out on a medal in the men's event - finishing fourth overall.
Ten Have, Armit and the rest of the windfoiling squad won’t be competing in Hyères as they are preparing for the European Championships in Greece, starting next month.
Also in action on the French Riviera this week are New Zealand’s 49er FX competitors.
Jo Aleh and Molly Meech finished 17th in Palma after leading the fleet after the first day’s racing, while Alex Maloney and Olivia Hobbs missed out on the gold fleet.
Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson, who were 15th in a 52-boat Nacra 17 fleet in Spain, will also be looking to move up the leaderboard in Hyères.
The NZ team for the French Olympic Week regatta in Hyères:
49er: Logan Dunning Beck/Oscar Gunn, Isaac McHardie/Will McKenzie, Sam Morgan/Pat Morgan, Campbell Stanton/Will Shapland, Scott McKenzie/Blake McGlashan.
49er FX: Jo Aleh/Molly Meech, Alex Maloney/Olivia Hobbs, Courtney Reynolds-Smith/Brianna Reynolds-Smith.
ILCA 6: Olivia Christie.
ILCA 7: Tom Saunders, George Gautrey. Luke Cashmore, Luke Deegan, Caleb Armit.
Nacra 17: Micah Wilkinson/Erica Dawson.
470 mixed: Brittany Wornall/Sam Street.
Kitefoil (women): Justina Kitchen.
For more information on the 2023 French Olympic Week regatta, click here.