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North Sails 2021 LEADERBOARD

Maloney and Meech take fresh approach into Games

by Yachting New Zealand 21 Jul 19:51 PDT
Alex Maloney and Molly Meech © World Sailing

Competing at an Olympics is always special but this one feels even more unique for Alex Maloney and Molly Meech given the circumstances around the staging of these Tokyo Games.

The 12-month isolation from the international fleet was arguably more stark for Maloney and Meech than some other classes because they were not just head and shoulders but virtually an entire body length ahead of any other 49erFX crew in the country.

Normally they would train with the world's best but that wasn't an option with international borders closed. That brought about a change in approach, not to mention a first full winter in New Zealand in close to a decade.

"I think initially it was hard to get your head around [the delay to the Olympics] but, once you knew the new date, I think we were quite innovative and creative around how we kept improving," Maloney said.

They did that by enlisting the help of Markus Somerville and Sam Street as training partners, along with former 29er world champions Crystal Sun and Olivia Hobbs. Yachting New Zealand also encouraged a handful of talented youngsters, including former 420 world champions Seb Menzies and Blake McGlashan and their partners, to accelerate their move into the 49er by learning the ropes in a 49erFX first.

"It’s cool to see the numbers growing with the girls and the younger 29er sailors moving up into the FX before maybe moving into the 49er," Maloney continued. "But I think for us we needed to try to grow a fleet so we had some other boats around to create situations.

"Having Markus and Sam was pretty instrumental because they were able to push us right away. Markus had been in the 49er class for quite a while so had the relevant skill-set. They didn’t like losing to us."

The feeling was most definitely mutual, and it was that competition that Maloney and Meech needed. They made one foray to Spain earlier this year just to check in with the rest of the Olympic fleet and emerged reassured they were on the right track.

The pair will start among the favourites in the 49erFX in Enoshima but any one of about eight countries in the 21-strong fleet have the ability to win gold, such is the building depth in the class.

The 49erFX made its Olympic debut in Rio and the medal race there was one of the most exciting of all 10 classes, with four teams all within one point of each other going into the top-10, double-points shootout.

The Brazilian pair of Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze pipped Maloney and Meech for gold, much to the delight of local fans, and are back in Enoshima to try to defend their crown.

Meech admits experience will count when racing for them starts on July 27 - they've been sailing together for nine years - but also feels a uniqueness to the Olympic experience so far.

"I think that with everything that has been happening over the last year and coming to an Olympics that was postponed, it feels quite special," she said. "It feels quite different to Rio.

"You were racing and seeing your competitors quite a lot in the buildup to Rio. This feels quite fresh. It’s exciting.

"It's also really cool to finally be back in Japan. Getting the bus across the bridge [to the yacht club] the other day actually felt like coming back to somewhere really familiar, which was nice."

Maloney and Meech made special mention of the support they've received from family, friends and training partners, along with the likes of Yachting New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand, to help prepare them for these Olympics.

"I think as a team we can feel pretty confident that we’re in good shape," Maloney said. "It will be a case of who executes on the day."

If it's Maloney and Meech, these Olympics will be even more special.

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