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Will NZ's most successful Olympic Sailing event cop the Selection axe?

by Richard Gladwell, NZL on 2 May 2016
Natalia Kosinska (NZL) RSX - Sailing World Cup Hyeres Pedro Martinez / Sailing Energy / World Sailing
New Zealand qualified in all ten of the 2016 Olympic events at the first round of Qualifying in Santander Spain in September 2014.

In two of those the RS:X Windsurfing event, New Zealand is unlikely to be represented in the Men's event, and in the Women's event, Natalia Kosinska would appear to be a borderline selection.

That is in an event that has delivered three Gold medals, one Silver and three Bronze over eight Olympic regattas since 1984. All but one of those medal winners are now coaching for other countries at the 2016 Olympics.

As has been noted previously New Zealand has an abundance of top Windsurfing coaches, but a paucity of talent.

With the acceptance of a coaching contract with the Brazilian team, lead Mens contender and 7th placegetter at the 2012 Olympics, JP Tobin is out of the selection. Under the reallocation of places process, the New ZealandMens RS:X Olympic spot earned in Santander will be offered to a 22yr old Belarussian sailor who finished in 63rd place overall at the 2016 World Championships.

Last chance for New Zealand's Natalia Kosinska was the just concluded Sailing World Cup Hyeres, which attracted a top women's fleet in the RS:X.

Those who have followed the racing will be aware that the venue, at that time of year, in the European Spring is very fickle. Epitomised by the Men's Medal Race in the Laser class which started in 25kts of breeze and ended in a drifter.

Reports from other competitors received by Sail-World indicated that picking the correct side of the course was essential as the wind oscillated in a random pattern

Kosinka's report from the final day of fleet racing is perhaps typical.

'Yesterday we had three races, 'she told Sail-World. 'There was no wind in the morning, so we were postponed till around 2 pm. We had SW wind pretty shifty and light for the first two races (6-11 kts for the first, a bit lighter for the second race and the wind increased for the third race to 11-14knts).

'I had better races than in previous days but still struggle to get my head around the wind at Hyeres.

'In the first race it was very patchy with pressure and the wind was oscillating. While for the second and third race it paid just to go hard to the side of the course.

'It's been difficult few days for me. In a long time, I haven't had regatta outside top 16 it's a good reminder of how competitive the fleet is everyone is gearing up for the Games.'

The former ISAF World Youth Windsurfer champion's results are not as stunning as some the other New Zealand sailors who have already been nominated in the doubled-handed classes.

Kosinska placed 13th in the 2013 World Championships, 21st in the 2014 Worlds - also the Olympic Qualifier, 18th in the 2015 Worlds and 16th in the 2016 World in Israel.

None of those places meet the Yachting NZ published criteria of a Top 12 place in a Worlds to make the NZL Sailing Team, and be put on the funding platform that those team members receive.

A look back at the 2012 Olympic results compared with the 2012 RS:X Worlds which were contested in March 2012, the Gold medal winner, Marina Alabau (ESP) finished in 10th place overall in the Worlds. The Olympic Silver medalist Tuuli Petaja (FIN) finished the 2012 Worlds in 14th place - just one ahead of Natalia Kosinska, who was not deemed by Yachting NZ not to be of sufficient standard to be even nominated for the NZ Olympic team to sail in Weymouth.

But with many countries running full multiple sailors with a full coaching program in selected events the standard is exceptionally high and deep. The Kiwi windsurfer contestants have run largely self-funded campaigns, with Tobin earning through coaching others and the Polish-born Kosinska through her day-job as a Sports Massage therapist at an Auckland sports clinic.

Viewed in the light of Olympic criteria - i.e., selection on a one competitor per country basis, Kosinska's results look a lot better

In the 2013 Worlds she placed 11th country, in 2014 she was 12th country, she was again 12th country and 2016 she was 10th country.

In many other New Zealand Olympic sports that last ranking, of making a world top ten in the year of the Olympics, would be sufficient to book a ticket to Rio.

Over the past six ISAF Youth World Championships, New Zealand does not have a good record. In fact, NZ had no representatives in the 2012 and 2013 Youth Worlds in Dublin and Cyprus, and the other eight events, New Zealand Youth sailors have managed just two places in the top ten (a 10th and a 9th in the Girls event in 2010 and 2011).

To some extent the placing at a Youth Worlds doesn't matter - epitomised by Molly Meech, who finished in 24th place in the Girls Laser Radial in 2010 and backed that up with a 12th the following year. A year later she sailed in the 49erFx class and will be on the plane to Rio 2016. Just getting the big competition experience at a Youth Worlds is important.

Against that Youth Worlds backdrop, it is maybe small wonder that there is not a lot of talent coming through to replace Tobin and Kosinska who have several Olympic campaigns to their names.

And what on paper would appear to be a tight selection decision for a regatta just under 100 days away, it could also be the coup de grĂ¢ce for New Zealand's best medal earning Olympic sailing event.

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