NZ pair feeling at home ahead of world champs

For a pair who typically spend more than 150 days each year overseas, Alex Maloney and Molly Meech are enjoying a rare prolonged period at home.

Even more than that, however, the Olympic silver medallists are relishing the prospect of racing in their first major regatta in New Zealand at next month’s Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships at the Royal Akarana Yacht Club.

Instead of going to the world, the world has come to them for a change; 412 sailors from 41 countries, in fact.

It’s a big deal. Not only are world titles on the line, but there are also a handful of Olympic qualification spots available and some countries like New Zealand, who have already earned a spot in all three classes at the Tokyo Games, are using it as a selection regatta.

It will be an advantage for Maloney and Meech to sail at home but, as Maloney explains, perhaps not as much as some might expect.

“Everyone is asking us about home advantage but… we haven’t actually raced here in a proper-sized skiff fleet,” she said. “It’s quite different.

“You can do all the harbour courses or events at home but doing it in a proper-sized fleet is going to be a new experience. It’s nice to be at home, but it’s definitely a learning experience, too.”

Alex Maloney and Molly Meech

All of the big guns are here in the 61-strong 49erFX fleet, including Rio gold medallists Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze from Brazil as well as the crews from Norway, Denmark, Great Britain and the Netherlands. 

And Maloney and Meech. 

The Kiwis have forged an impressive record since teaming up at the end of 2012, with world championships gold (2013) and bronze (2017) and Olympic silver (2016) as well a number of medals from World Cup Series regattas, European championships and various other top-level events. They started the year as the world’s No 1-ranked combination and are presently second behind the Brazilians.

But for all their success, their last outing at a world championships is one that rankles. Maloney and Meech were eighth in Aarhus last year which qualified the boat for New Zealand for the Tokyo Olympics but was below the standards they set for themselves.

“We came away [from Aarhus] pretty disappointed,” Meech admitted. “We felt like we underperformed. We went away and had a really good look at our strengths and weaknesses but tried to make sure the weaknesses didn’t stay weaknesses.

“We have been pretty critical about how we go ahead and make progress. Up in Japan this year we felt like we made a big step forward and hopefully that helps going into this world championships.”

The pair narrowly missed out on a medal at August’s Olympic test event but backed it up with silver at the Enoshima World Cup later that month.

That was their last competition and these world championships represent the start of a busy period leading into Tokyo that includes another 49erFX world championships in Melbourne in February and a European campaign before the focus shifts to Japan.

Ahead of all of that, however, Maloney and Meech will line up on Monday with the majority of those competing in Auckland in the Oceania Championships, a three-day warmup regatta for the main event.

“We are treating [the Oceania Championships] as proper racing but it definitely has more of a learning focus,” Maloney said. “We are open to trying things.

“We haven’t raced since August so it will be nice to get back into proper racing. We do a lot of practice racing with half the fleet but it’s pretty casual and there are no consequences so it’s definitely different once you go racing properly.”

And in another difference, the pair get to go home at the end of each day’s racing.

“You can get into some really nice routines without the travel. When you’re overseas, you’re trying to find your feet. There’s nothing like being at home.”

  • Catch all six days of the Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships live on Sky Sport channel 9 in New Zealand or online globally.
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