Tom Saunders had planned to be back in New Zealand right now but he's glad he delayed his return because this morning he was crowned Laser world champion.
No racing was possible on the final day in Barcelona due to strong winds and big swells, meaning the 29-year-old took out the championships from Ireland's Finn Lynch and Croatia's Tonci Stipanovic. Fellow Kiwi George Gautrey was 18th overall.
"It’s pretty surreal, to be honest, quite unbelievable," Saunders said. "I’m obviously very happy with the week and my progression over the last month. It couldn’t have gone any better."
It might not have happened at all had Saunders followed through with his original plan to return to New Zealand in October. He had secured an MIQ slot and didn't know when he might be able to get back home if he stayed in Europe, where he had been since early July.
"I was pretty serious on going home because I didn’t really want to risk not getting home but halfway through the European championships I made the decision to stay because I was happy with the way I was sailing," said Saunders, who finished sixth at the European championships.
"I just risked it, backed myself and hoped I would be able to get an MIQ spot and hope I would perform at a world champs. It all went to plan."
Not only did he secure an MIQ spot for mid-December, but he also became just the second New Zealander to win the Laser world championships since the first event in 1974, following on from Nik Burfoot in 1994.
Plenty of Kiwis have come close to emulating that feat, with Andrew Murdoch twice finishing second to go with his four bronze medals, as well as Mike Bullot who collected silver in 2009.
Bullot has also been Saunders' coach over the past few weeks and the pair looked to build on Saunders' previous results that included two top-10 finishes at the world championships, multiple podium positions at World Cup events and a youth sailing world title.
"Mike changed a few plans around to continue what we worked on at the Europeans," Saunders said. "The biggest thing was just mindset, sailing with a lot of freedom. Front footing my decision and backing myself was the key, and they obviously came off pretty well this week. It was great to have Mike with me.
"I have been at it for almost 10 years now. I would have liked it to happen a bit earlier [in my career] but I'm really stoked to finally break through and get over the line. I knew I was capable and have come close a few times without putting it all together over the week. I’m just really happy to finally break through and put it all on the line.
"I was really looking forward to racing [today] and being able to try to deal with the pressure and finish it off like I had been sailing all week. That would have been my preferred way to go out but, with no racing today, I have done what I needed to do so I’m pretty stoked."
Results and standings after the final day of the Laser world championships in Barcelona:
1st: Tom Saunders (NZL) 3 4 7 2 (37) 1 4 2 - 23 points
2nd: Finn Lynch (IRE) 3 6 8 10 (16) 7 2 1 - 37 pts
3rd: Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) 11 3 6 2 11 8 24 (35) - 65 pts
18th: George Gautrey (NZL) 23 8 15 24 6 32 7 (64) - 115 pts
- Photo: Tom Saunders celebrates with coach Mike Bullot.