New Zealand is underway with building a team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with seven sailors selected today.
The athletes were named to the New Zealand Team at a function at the Royal Akarana Yacht Club in Auckland this morning. The sailors are the first of around 200 New Zealand athletes expected to be selected over the coming months, becoming part of what is likely to be New Zealand's largest Olympic Team ever.
The sailing team has significant Olympic Games experience and includes Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who led the New Zealand Team into the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and went on to win gold in the 49er.
Rio 2016 49erFX silver medallists Alex Maloney and Molly Meech have also been named, as well as Rio 2016 Laser bronze medallist Sam Meech.
Nacra 17 sailors Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson are the only Olympic newcomers in the initial sailing selection announcement, with further crews to be considered for selection to the New Zealand Team following a series of upcoming World Championships.
New Zealand has a proud Olympic sailing legacy, having collected 22 medals since the first won by Peter Mander and Jack Cropp (lightweight Sharpie, gold medal) at Melbourne in 1956. New Zealand sailors also secured gold at Tokyo 1964 (Halmer Pedersen and Earle Wells in the Flying Dutchman) and brought home a record-equalling four medals from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Sam Meech was among the medallists in Rio and has been one of the world’s best Laser sailors over the past four years. The 28-year-old is excited to be given the opportunity to represent New Zealand at a second Olympic Games.
“It’s so cool to represent your country,” he said. “We do so many regattas but the Olympic Games is special because it feels like you’re sailing for more than yourself.
“I didn’t really know what to expect in Rio. I tried talking to a number of people to get an idea of what it was going to be like but you never really know until you experience it. There’s so much going on outside of the sailing and I can’t wait to experience it again.”
Wilkinson and Dawson admit they’ve been buzzing since finding out they had earned selection in the Nacra 17 class.
The pair have been sailing the foiling catamaran together for only nine months and showed their potential when finishing seventh at last month’s Nacra 17 world championships in Geelong.
“We are just so excited to get this opportunity to go to the Olympic Games and show everyone what we are made of,” Dawson said.
“Wearing the silver fern means so much to us personally but we are also excited to wear it for our families and supporters who have believed in us all these years.
“We’ve both watched the Olympic Games on TV and seen our friends and peers compete so for us to get this opportunity is really special. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to make sure we’re in the best shape possible at Games time.”
Burling and Tuke will be among the favourites to win gold in the 49er in Tokyo having added two 49er world titles in recent months to the four they won in the last Olympic cycle. The remarkable pair, who took a couple of years off the Olympic class to sail in both the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race, also won last year’s OIympic Test Event at the Olympic venue in Enoshima.
Maloney and Meech are also itching to get back to Olympic competition, having been among the world’s best 49erFX crews for almost a decade. The pair won the inaugural 49erFX world title in 2013, but missed out on competing at last month’s 49erFX world championships in Geelong after Maloney broke her foot in training on the eve of the regatta. The pair are due to get back into training shortly and are planning to compete in the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma at the end of the month.
Sailing at Tokyo 2020 is due to get under way at Enoshima on July 24th and conclude on August 5th.
NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith extended her congratulations to the athletes.
“Well done on your selection to the New Zealand Team,” said Smith.
“A huge amount of work has gone into getting you to this point; there’s a lot more work to do between now and Games time so we wish you the best with the rest of your preparation and we can't wait to watch you compete in Japan and earn the fern.”
Smith presented each of the athletes with a silver fern as they were named to the team. The silver fern is the symbol of the New Zealand Team and every athlete that's named will receive a fern at selection announcements. The athletes will be encouraged to plant the ferns at a place of significance for them or their team and reflect upon their Olympic journey as it grows.
New Zealand expects to be represented by more than 200 athletes across approximately 20 sports at Tokyo 2020.
Athletes will be named to the team between now and early July, with the Olympic Games to be held from July 24th to August 9th.
Preparation for the Olympic Games is progressing well, with the New Zealand Team entering the final phase of operational planning and detailed process development.