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World Champions and Finn sailing mates become competitor and coach for Tokyo2020

by Richard Gladwell/ 27 May 2021 18:10 PDT 28 May 2021
Josh Junior - 2019 Finn Gold Cup © Robert Deaves

Freshly crowned Finn World Champion Andy Maloney and the previous title holder, Josh Junior were in a surprisingly jovial mood during an interview session this morning, just after the announcement of the NZ Finn representative for Tokyo2020.

Normally when close Olympic selections are announced one is elated, and the other distraught. But there was none of that this morning when the final Olympic Sailing selection was announced.

Josh Junior, who was also the Finn representative at the Rio Olympics got the nod from the Olympic selectors in probably one of the most difficult selection decisions for all sports and nations competing at the Tokyo Olympics. In any other year, and country, Maloney as current world champion, would have been a quick choice - probably one of the first written down on the Olympic teamsheet.

But it was not to be, and despite changing up from the Laser to the Finn and the Heavyweight One Person Dinghy event, Maloney once again missed the cut, and instead will become Josh Junior's training partner in Europe, where they both have boats. At Enoshima, Maloney will jump in the coach boat and will be working hard for New Zealand to win just its second Gold medal in the Finn.

There's no "next time" either for Maloney as the way matters stand at present the Finn will be dropped from the 2024 Olympic Regatta, and male sailors weighing over 85kg will be excluded from participation at the Olympics.

Both Josh Junior and Andy Maloney were members of the winning Emirates Team New Zealand America's Cup team in the 2017 and 2021 Matches, and their recently changed relationship in the Finn, will borrow quite heavily from the processes in both America's Cups, where the Kiwis worked very independent from the other teams.

Asked whether they shared gear, or worked independently in the years leading up to the decision on Olympic selection, Josh Junior quipped that he "had a few things that Andy doesn't have!"

"That's pretty much the basis of our whole campaign," replied Maloney. "We use the same gear. If we think there is something better out there, we will test it against the other person, and if it is faster then we can get a second set and we'll both be using it."

"We're all using the same kit unless we are developing. But at all the main events we have the same hulls, the same rigs and the same sails."

"One of the strengths of our campaign is that we can push forward and use what is the best," he added.

Both are sailing with four year old Devoti hulls, which are the gold standard in the Finn class, along with North Sails and Wilke masts, from Switzerland.

The two are very coy about disclosing their vital statistics, other than to say they are close to 105kg and within a few millimeters of each other in height, however Josh Junior is the taller of the two.

"We're only allowed one boat in Enoshima in the short time we are allowed in before the Olympics," says Maloney, whose sister Alex will be skippering the 49erFX in Tokyo and looking to improve on their Silver medal from Rio.

"While we are in Europe we will still be sparring partners," explains Maloney. "But once we get to Japan it will be more of a coach athlete relationship," he added.

"We get into Japan around July 15, which is about ten days or so before we start racing" says Junior, finishing Maloney's sentence. " We can't get there too much earlier than that, and I think everyone will be on a similar playing field. The venue doesn't open until a certain time and everyone will just roll in as soon as the gates open."

While all seems calm, serene and very much under control in the interview conducted via Zoom from Portugal, in Japan the situation is very fluid with COVID deaths hitting an all time peak last week, and with the US State Department warning Americans not to travel to Japan.

Coach Maloney says he expects COVID "to pose challenges and differences to what we are used to, in the other times we have been to Japan, but everyone will be in the same situation, and we will just have to stay flexible. It's just one of those things that we are going to have to deal with," he adds.

With the Finn class being the last of the Olympic Sailing selections to be announced, New Zealand will only be represented in six of the ten Olympic events despite having qualified in all, with Yachting New Zealand saying that sailors in the Womens Two Person dinghy (470), Womens One Person dinghy (Laser Radial), and Mens and Womens Windsurfer. the expectation is that New Zealand would medal in at least half of the six events, and the nominated team also medaled in three events in Rio in 2016.

This will be Josh Junior's second Olympic regatta and he will be looking to improve on his seventh placing five years ago in Rio. He was the one who qualified New Zealand for the Finn class in the 2020 Olympics, finishing 4th overall. Maloney having only a year's experience in the Finn, placed a creditable 10th overall.

"The Finn fleet has huge depth. Obviously there's a lot of good sailors," Josh Junior explains, naming Giles Scott the defending Olympic champion as being "good". 2018 World Champions Zsombor Berecz (HUN), 2014 World Champion in the Laser class, Nicholas Heiner (NED) and youth sailor Joan Cardona (ESP) who finished second in the 2021 Gold Cup are the ones he expects to be around the top of the 19 boat fleet at Enoshima. "There are eight or nine sailors who are very good," he adds.

When asked what they are expecting to see weather-wise in Enoshima, coach and competitor turn and nudge each other grinning. It falls onto the newly appointed coach to answer that one. "We been there a few times now", Maloney says. "It can be anything. You get some big swells rolling into that area of the coast. Or you get offshore winds and it is really shifty. Strength is right through the windrange. It is going to be a venue where a sailor who can adapt to all the conditions will do really well, I guess," Maloney adds with a shrug of the shoulders.

Enoshima has a reputation as a happy hunting ground for New Zealand Olympic sailing with Helmer Pedersen and Earle Wells winning a Gold medla in the two man Flying Dutchman class despite a disasterous first two days of the regatta which included a retirement from one race. However they bounced back to score three race wins, a third and a fourth placing to win New Zealand's second sailing gold medal.

"We're excited to get there, and we're excited for the challenge," says Junior. "Can't wait to get racing. If we could win a Gold medal, like they did it would be pretty epic. Hopefully New Zealand can win a few,' he adds.

For both, Tokyo will be the last Olympic hurrah. While Josh Junior will have a last shot at that elusive medal, for Maloney with Olympic Finn and Laser campaigns it will be his first steps into the coaching world - and starting at the top.

Whatever the outcome - the future is still certain. There's still an America's Cup to defend.

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