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Paris 2024: Five Kiwis named for the 2024 Olympic Regatta in Marseille

by Lewis Hampton, NZ Olympic Committee 5 Mar 13:41 PST
Micah Wilkinson/Erica Dawson (NZ) - Nacra 17 - Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Test Event, Marseille, France - Day 7 - July 15, 2023 © Sander van der Borch / World Sailing

A young and exciting initial sailing squad has today been named to the New Zealand Team for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, with five sailors selected to compete in four sailing classes.

Tom Saunders (ILCA 7), Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson (Nacra 17), and Veerle ten Have and Josh Armit (iQFOIL) were officially selected at a function at Wakatere Boating Club on Auckland's North Shore on Wednesday morning.

Of the initial sailing selection, only Nacra 17 sailors Wilkinson and Dawson have previous Olympic experience, with the pair having competed in the mixed multihull at Tokyo 2020. Further crews will be considered for selection to the New Zealand Team following a series of upcoming competitions.

Armit and ten Have are set to represent New Zealand in the exciting new discipline of iQFOIL (windfoiling) and will reach speeds of up to 50kph as they compete off the coast of Marseille, where the Olympic sailing competition will be held.

"Representing New Zealand on the biggest stage is incredibly exciting and it took me a few days to process the news," said ten Have.

"Making the team is only one step, however, and now it's all about performing in Marseille."

Ten Have, 23, has established herself among the leading female windfoilers in the world, despite only sailing in the class for a little over two years. She won bronze at last year's season-opening World Cup in Spain and finished sixth at the Olympic test event in Marseille in July.

"Being a part of the New Zealand Team and seeing the level of support around the athletes is awesome," ten Have said.

"We won't be in the Olympic village in Paris with many of the other New Zealand athletes, but I can already feel the sense of togetherness among the group and that is something we will all be relying on to lift our performances."

Twenty-two-year-old Armit, meanwhile, enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2023, finishing in the top 10 in several key European regattas, with his seventh at the combined sailing world championships in The Hague in August a highlight.

"It's a really cool event," said Armit. "We're flying above the water now with these foils and I just love the speed and freedom of it, it's a really exciting sport."

While ten Have and Armit are relatively new to their classes, Saunders has been one of the world's leading ILCA 7 (formerly Laser) sailors for much of the past decade.

In 2021, he became only the second Kiwi - and the first since Nik Burfoot in 1994 - to win the class world championships with his triumph in Barcelona.

Saunders, whose brother Jason represented New Zealand at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, will make his Olympic debut in Marseille.

"There's a definite sense of pride and relief to be selected after three Olympic cycles - 12 full years of campaigning," the 31-year-old Tauranga sailor said.

"To be part of a bigger team and to represent our country along with top athletes from other sports is very special and something that I will be embracing. Winning a medal is what we've been working toward for a long time, and I know I have the potential to get on that podium in France."

Wilkinson, 28, and Dawson, 29, have been sailing together since 2019 and had their first taste of the Olympics in Tokyo, finishing just outside the top 10 despite Dawson breaking her leg in a training accident only a month out from the showpiece.

NZOC CEO Nicki Nicol extended her congratulations to the athletes.

"We're really pleased to have named these exciting athletes to our Olympic team," said Nicol.

"It's great to have a mix of youth of experience in this initial squad and we look forward to growing this team with further selections in the coming months."

New Zealand has a proud Olympic sailing legacy, having collected 23 medals since the first won by Peter Mander and Jack Cropp at Melbourne in 1956.

Sailing at Paris 2024 is due to get underway in Marseille on July 28th and conclude on August 8th. New Zealand is one of four nations who have qualified in nine of the 10 Olympic events. Kiwi sailors are attempting to meet NZOC selection criteria and earn Paris 2024 nomination in several classes.

S-W: In the 49erFX Worlds currently underway at Lanzarote, the New Zealand crew of Jo Aleh and Mollie Meech lie in fifth overall after the first day of racing in the two person Womens skiff.

In the 49er class, the two person Mens skiff, Isaac McHardie and William McKenzie lie 19th overall after two races sailed on the first day of the regatta, also at Lanzarote.

Aleh and Meech finished 6th overall in the 2023 World Championship for the 49er Fx, with McHardie and McKenzie placing 4th in the 49er World Championship in The Hague.

A top ten placing in a world championship is generally the qualifying point for Olympic nomination.

Athlete Bios:

Tom Saunders

A prodigiously talented youth sailor, Saunders successfully made the step up into the senior ranks and has been among the front of the world's ILCA 7 fleets since winning the 2021 world championships - only the second Kiwi to do so in the history of arguably the most competitive class in the sport. He followed it up with a fourth place at the 2022 world champs in Mexico, wedged between a string of other strong domestic and international results and in November 2022, Saunders was named Orbit World Travel Sailor of the Year at the annual Aon Yachting Excellence Awards. A challenging 2023 was followed by early success in 2024, with Saunders finishing fifth at the world champs in Adelaide to secure his spot in Paris.

Veerle ten Have

Ten Have is a Youth Olympic Games athlete and has been the country’s top prospect in women’s windfoiling since making the switch from the non-foiling RS:X in late 2021. Since then, she has dominated the local scene and made rapid progress internationally - claiming several impressive results in her first season against the best iQFOILers on the planet (in 2022). She continued her upward trajectory the following year, with bronze at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma de Mallorca, and sixth place at the Olympic test event in Marseille.

Josh Armit

Armit was one of the most talked-about youth sailors in the country when he won the boys Laser Radial (now ILCA 6) at the 2018 youth sailing world championships but he decided to take a break from the sport after struggling with the transition to the ILCA 7. His hiatus didn't last long, however, as Armit discovered windfoiling in late 2020 and soon established himself as New Zealand's top male competitor. His growing list of accolades includes several national titles, as well as top 10s in 2023 at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Spain, the European championships in Greece, the Olympic test event in France and the combined sailing world champs in the Netherlands in August.

Micah Wilkinson

A former youth world champion in the 29er and a member of the 2017 Youth America’s Cup team, Wilkinson has plenty of experience and success in the Nacra 17. He switched from crewing to helming when joining forces with Erica Dawson in 2019, and the duo have since broken into the top 10 on the world rankings. Wilkinson and Dawson placed seventh at the 2020 Nacra 17 world championships in Melbourne, and finished 12th at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, their debut at the event.

Erica Dawson

Dawson and Micah Wilkinson have been consistently near the front of the mixed Nacra 17 fleet since their Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020. Dawson showed considerable promise in her junior and youth sailing days and is the only female to have won the Starling national championships. She earlier campaigned in the 49erFX and had a brief stint in the ILCA 6 (Laser Radial) before teaming up with Wilkinson in 2019. Originally a skipper of double-handed boats, Dawson swapped roles with Wilkinson and the pair finished eighth at the 2023 world championships and fifth at the 2023 European championships following a consistent 2023.

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