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Dawson and Wilkinson charged up over new Olympic dates

by Yachting New Zealand 1 Apr 00:03 PDT
Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson - Nacra 17 - Day 4 - 2020 World Championships - Royal Geelong Yacht Club - February 2020 © Bill Phillips

Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson took possession of a new boat recently and took it for a short 30-minute sail before the lockdown.

It was an inauspicious start, with Wilkinson cutting his face on a side stay during their first manoeuvre, but it's something the pair now look back on fondly.

The Nacra 17 sailors have little idea when they might be able to get back out for a second sailing, as the first week of lockdown in New Zealand draws to a close, but they at least have something to look forward to with news the Tokyo Olympics has been rescheduled to start next year on July 23. The global situation needs to improve dramatically for that to happen but it's at least given athletes something to aim for in these uncertain times.

Wilkinson and Dawson are two of seven New Zealand sailors already announced to compete at the Tokyo Games, alongside Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (49er), Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (49erFX) and Same Meech (Laser), and their selections into 2021 have been guaranteed by the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Wilkinson and Dawson have been through a range of emotions in recent weeks, from elation to despair, frustration to uncertainty but one overriding theme the pair have taken away is that the delay presents a massive opportunity.

"The last month has been so hectic," Wilkinson says from his family home in the Waikato. "We earned selection and that was so exciting and then there was the uncertainty around the Games and we had a few weeks of not knowing what was going to happen. We have a date and we can start building a plan from here.

"We both see this as a real opportunity for us because we need more time in the boat. Another year of training for us is awesome and it changes the whole goal. Going into the Games this year, we might have been battling it out for a bronze medal at best. Now with another year of learning, the goal is a gold medal."

A major reason for their optimism is the fact Wilkinson and Dawson have made significant progress since teaming up only 10 months ago. This was highlighted at last month's Nacra 17 world championships in Melbourne when they emerged from the pack to finish seventh overall.

The conditions in Melbourne, where they finished in the top 10 eight times across the 12 races, were largely to their liking and they know they need to make improve in other areas to climb even higher.

"Fitness is a big one - we can see ourselves making a big gain in that area - and we have lots to learn about the technical side of our boat," Wilkinson says. "One of our biggest strengths is learning quickly and that comes from the passion and drive towards the sport itself. It’s quite an exciting period to tick off a lot of things we’re normally too frantic to do."

The thing they're looking forward to the most, however, is getting back out on the water. Like everyone else, they have no idea when that will be and what restrictions will be in place when the lockdown is lifted.

"We are really lucky to live in New Zealand where we can sail all year round, unlike a lot of the other teams," Dawson says. "We are happy to keep training in New Zealand once the level 4 is lifted.

"If the opportunity to travel comes up, we will probably jump at it so we can sail against other teams. We’re also really lucky we have some domestic training partners, two young guys [in Jack Honey and Henry Haslett], so it will be awesome to train with them while we are at home."

Wilkinson and Dawson had a small ceremony when they launched their new boat for the first time recently and christened it Little Charger

The name wasn't lost on Wilkinson and Dawson because it could very easily apply to either of them as well.

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