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Tom Saunders

New world champion headlines ILCA nationals

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Tom Saunders was 89th the last time he competed in Picton. 

Admittedly he was just starting out in his sailing career, contesting his second Optimist national championships, so the ILCA 7 (Laser) world champion should go a little bit better at this week's ILCA national championships being hosted by the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club.

Saunders will headline the ILCA nationals, which will also feature the country's best women's, youth and masters sailors in the four-day regatta. The event has already received 91 entries with racing due to get under way on Thursday.

It will be Saunders' first regatta since winning the ILCA 7 world title in Spain in November and the enormity of his achievement has started to sink in.

"I can't go many places like yacht clubs and not have people come up to me and say congratulations, so that's really cool," he said. "I have had some time off so was able to reflect on what I achieved last year. It was quite nice to do that and share it with family and friends.

"I'm just getting back into the boat at the moment, so [the nationals championships] will be a case of just trying to get back into the swing of things and figuring out where I'm at and what I need to work on for the summer before I head off to Europe again."

The plan at this stage is to train in New Zealand before heading to Europe at the end of March for regattas in Palma and Hyeres. The world championships are in Mexico at the end of May.

Missing from this year's nationals will be 2021 champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Sam Meech but Saunders will find good competition in the likes of former world championships bronze medallist George Gautrey as well as 2020 national champion Luke Cashmore and Luke Deegan.

"I am sure there will also be a few masters trying to sniff around at the top mark," Saunders added. "It will be exciting."

It will also be one of the rare times he has competed at the national championships - he won in 2019 but has typically competed at the World Cup event in Miami - and will go in full of confidence.

"There might be an expectation but I feel like I have nothing to prove," he said. "I just need to continue what I'm doing and sail with freedom.

"It's quite exciting to go into this year and the next few years knowing what I'm capable of. That's the most important thing, confidence. I can keep sailing with freedom and hopefully continue on what I did last year." 

Olivia Christie will be gunning for her third ILCA 6 (Laser Radial) national women's title in four years but 2021 ILCA masters champion Jenny Armstrong will swap the competitor's bib for the coaching jacket having taken over as Yachting New Zealand women's sailing manager and ILCA 6 programme manager.

The national championships is being preceded by a three-day Aon ILCA 6 national clinic, which started on Saturday.