The 2018 NZL Sailing Team has a fresh look to it with three additions to last year’s squad as the focus on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics heats up.
The team has increased in size from 11 to 13 with the inclusion of Tom Saunders (Laser), who was a member of the squad in 2015, and newcomers Liv Mackay and Micah Wilkinson (Nacra 17).
Two-time Olympic medallist Jo Aleh is the only name missing from last year’s team. Aleh has joined the workforce and is not presently campaigning, although she has not retired from the sport.
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have been named, although the pair have not yet made a final decision on whether they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in Tokyo. They are presently competing in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Yachting New Zealand high performance director Ian Stewart is excited about the ability within the 2018 NZL Sailing Team and says this year is about results.
“It’s a fresh-looking and re-energised squad and one that is evolving in the way we would hope,” he said. “We've done plenty of planning and preparation and now it's a time for our sailors to translate that into good results. There’s plenty of exciting talent in the team and I’m really looking forward to seeing how we perform in 2018.”'
August’s combined world championships in Denmark, when all of the Olympic classes compete at the same regatta, is the pinnacle event of the year and also doubles as the first qualification regatta for the Tokyo Olympics.
Stewart said one of the goals of Yachting New Zealand is to produce genuine depth in all Olympic classes and that is now being seen in the likes of the Nacra 17, Laser and Finn.
Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders, who were fourth in Rio, are being pushed by Mackay and Wilkinson, who were 10th at last year’s Nacra world championships despite taking delivery of their foiling catamaran only three days before the regatta started.
Olympic bronze medallist Sam Meech continued to excel on the world stage in 2017 but has been joined in that category by Tom Saunders, who was eighth at the Laser world championships and rounded out the year by winning the pre-Olympic regatta in Enoshima.
Josh Junior has returned to campaigning in the Finn after helping Emirates Team New Zealand win the America’s Cup and has been joined in the heavyweight dinghy by fellow Team New Zealand member Andy Maloney.
“We’ve seen in the past the value for our top sailors in having quality training partners which also lifts the ability of those around them to the point they are pushing for Olympic inclusion,” Stewart said. “We would love to see more depth emerging in 2018.”
All of the members of the NZL Sailing Team except Burling and Tuke will be racing at this weekend’s Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta at Murrays Bay, which is also the final leg of the Tasman Series. There will also be a strong international contingent of about 90 sailors competing at this country's premier Olympic class regatta.
2018 NZL Sailing Team
Sam Meech (Laser)
Meech won bronze at the Rio Olympics and had another strong year in 2017 which included a win at the Gamagori World Cup regatta.
Tom Saunders (Laser)
Saunders returns to the NZL Sailing Team after a breakthrough year in 2017 that included winning the pre-Olympic regatta in Enoshima.
Josh Junior (Finn)
Junior is back for another tilt at an Olympic medal after finishing seventh in Rio. Last year he helped Team New Zealand win the America’s Cup.
Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (49erFX)
Maloney and Meech won silver in Rio and backed it up with bronze at last year’s 49erFX world championships.
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (49er)
Burling and Tuke have had a pretty big 18 months that included winning Olympic gold and the America's Cup and are presently competing in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox (men’s 470)
Snow-Hansen and Willcox were ninth at the Rio Olympics but earlier that year collected silver at the 470 world championships.
Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders (Nacra 17)
Jones and Saunders have some unfinished business after finishing fourth in Rio and they were also fourth at last year’s Nacra world championships.
Liv Mackay and Micah Wilkinson (Nacra 17)
Mackay and Wilkinson are the only newcomers to the NZL Sailing Team but were 2016 Red Bull Foiling Generation world champions and last year finished 10th at the Nacra world champs.