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Megan Kensington

Kensington likes to make it official

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Megan Kensington has done the Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup and later this week will take part in the Olympic test event in Japan.

Rather than being the most famous New Zealand sailor you probably haven't heard of, Kensington is an international race officer and will be among a select group of officials running racing at the upcoming Olympic test event.

She's a little nervous, largely because it's her first major overseas assignment and most of her 20 years' experience is in keelboats, and also because she broke her ankle earlier this year and isn't as mobile as she would like to be.

Kensington has officiated the restart of the Volvo Ocean Race in Auckland a handful of times, and once was even the starter after the international officials had already returned home because of a delay to the boats' departure, and was also the course setter for the 2003 America's Cup in Auckland.

On that occasion, she even rubbed shoulders with model and actress Cindy Crawford (pictured), not that she might have wanted to get too close.

"She was an ambassador for Omega but had been horrendously sea sick on the way out because it was a dreadful day," Kensington said. "She came out on the race committee boat to make it look like she was firing the gun. She was very, very sea sick and still looked fabulous.

"I remember going to Sydney for work once and I was going to be there for the weekend. There was a match racing event on so I asked if I could go out with the race officer. It’s really good observing and learning from other race officers when it comes to things you should and shouldn’t do."

There's no doubt Kensington is committed to the role, even though it's something that happened largely by accident. She had done a little sailing as a youngster but it became a bigger part of her life when she married a keen yachtie.

She was soon involved in MRX racing and often went out on the water to take photos of her husband, John, in action. It was then she got "dragged" into helping run races and it wasn't long before she was a national race officer and in 2008 became an international race officer.

She's one of only three international race officers in New Zealand - Ian Clouston and John Parrish are the others - and is one of 13 Kiwis with international qualifications (the rest are umpires and judges). In the same way the Olympic test event is a dry run for most of the sailors, it could be a similar scenario for the race officials and Kensington would love to be involved in next year's Tokyo Games.

"I enjoy the challenge and I was probably better at race management than sailing," Kensington said. "I really enjoy building a team and working with different people and talking things through with sailors so you can improve and they can sometimes understand when things go wrong. I think a lot of it was the camaraderie and the challenge.

"It’s really important to want to work with people and not be precious. You have to learn to take a bit of criticism. You will always have someone who is at the losing end who will want to criticise.

"I ran one at the [Royal New Zealand Yacht] Squadron and everyone came off saying what a great course it was and how happy they were, then someone who had a really bad day came up and said it was the worst start line they had ever seen. You have to be prepared to put your ego aside and run with it.

"You have to want a challenge and be doing it for the right reasons. I really like the satisfaction of knowing I have run really good racing. I like to come off the water each day and take a bit of time to think about what I might have done differently, what can I improve on and what did I do really well. It’s really important to be continuously doing that for your own development."

Yacht clubs are "crying out" for race officers, particularly good mark layers, and Kensington suggested that anyone interested in potentially helping should head out on the water with a race official one day.

"Put your hand up, go out and see what it's all about and be prepared to listen and learn. And get wet."