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Tokyo2020: Bronze medalist looks forward to racing after weird buildup

by Michael Brown/Yachting New Zealand 17 Jul 04:48 PDT
Sam Meech (NZL) on Day 1 , Race 2 of the Mens Laser, Guanabara Bay © Richard Gladwell

After months of uncertainty, the Olympics felt real again for Sam Meech yesterday when he walked into the boat park at the Enoshima Yacht Club.

Waiting for the Rio bronze medallist was a fully-branded Laser, complete with Olympic stickers emblazoned on his dinghy and sails. It was a boat park also full of sailors he would normally see at regattas around the world but hasn't mingled with (even at a distance) for some time.

"It’s really exciting," Meech said this morning before training. "It was neat to go down to get the boat and see it all branded up and see everyone who I haven’t seen for a year.

"It’s been a while since we’ve been racing so it was neat to get back down there. It does feel like the Olympics, with everyone in their uniforms and the boats looking good."

Meech will be the first New Zealand sailor in action at the Games, when he's among the 35-strong Laser fleet to take to the water on July 25.

He will be one of the favourites but there are always plenty of contenders in the Laser fleet, including the likes of Matt Wearn (Australia), Philipp Buhl (Germany), Pavlos Kontides (Cyprus) and evergreen Brazilian Robert Scheidt, who won the first of his two Olympic gold medals in Atlanta in 1996.

Meech can't draw on the depth of Scheidt's experience but was consistently among the world's best over the last Olympic cycle, regularly finishing on the podium at international regattas.

That has been a little difficult over the last 18 months, for obvious reasons, and Meech and the rest of the New Zealand sailing team will go into these Games not being as sure as normal around how they are going.

"It has been really difficult [not racing] so it's been a completely different buildup," Meech said. "You’d normally be racing every couple of months so you’d have your goals to work on from those races and you structure your year around those.

"We tried to do the same but just around training blocks and you take as much as you can from those. We have also been heading to Australia [to train with their best Laser sailors], which has helped, and treated them almost like regattas. We haven’t checked in with the Europeans since February last year so it will be interesting to see how they are all going.

"I feel like I have been going really well in training. Yesterday was a great first day in the boat but you didn’t really get to tune it up against many people. Today will be the day."

Many in the Laser fleet, like other classes, will hold practice races on the same courses that will be used for the Games and will help Meech get a feel for the conditions off Enoshima again. He's raced and trained here a handful of times, most recently finishing fifth at the Olympic test event in 2019.

Light winds are forecast for the next few days but some models are forecasting a typhoon to trek reasonably close to Enoshima later this week, which could provide challenging conditions.

Meech has virtually seen it all throughout his international racing career, though, and has now had to adapt to a pandemic. It's fair to say he's ready for anything when racing at the Olympics starts next Sunday.

Sail-World's Richard Gladwell arrives in Enoshima on Thursday, as a photographer/journalist to cover his fourth Olympic Regatta

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