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Sail-World NZ - May 29: Finn friends selection decision; 12 teams in Europe Race;

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 29 May 00:03 UTC 29 May 2021
Josh Junior during the 2019 Finn Gold Cup in Melbourne, Australia © Robert Deaves

Welcome to Sail-World.com's New Zealand e-magazine for May 29, 2021

The Olympics dominated the news this week - with the announcement of the NZ nomination in the Finn class for Tokyo 2020 attracting a lot of media comment both in New Zealand but internationally.

Having to make a choice of which of two world champions you'd like to have, as your representative at the upcoming Olympics, is a problem most countries would be overjoyed to have.

When we sat down and did a small preview story on the announcement, it was quite clear as to the direction the decision would go.

However it was equally clear that from the post-announcement media conference, that both sailors had agreed to work together on the basis that selection would be against quite objective selection criteria. Sailing teams, Olympic squads and selectors will never disclose that criteria, for fear that other teams will trying and manipulate the trial results, with a view to getting a weaker sailor into the Olympic fleet.

That conspiracy theory is an interesting line, but its achievement in a sailing race is difficult and hard to conceal.

Given the existence of the objective criteria, then both sailors would have known the outcome of yesterday's announcement for some time, and maybe the Finn Gold Cup earlier this month didn't have that big a bearing on the final decision.

The Road to Tokyo2020 started with Josh Junior qualifying the Finn for NZ in Aarhus at the 2018 Combined Class World Championships in Aarhus, which he backed up with a win in the Finn Gold Cup in 2019. Maloney was a creditable sixth in that regatta.

There's the old cricketing mantra that class is permanent, but form is temporary. While some would try and argue that on the basis of the recent Finn Gold Cup, Maloney was the form sailor, but by any measure JJ finishing third in the Finn Gold Cup is also the sign of an in form sailor. Any one of the top eight in that Finn Gold Cup could win the Gold medal in Enoshima - it's just a matter of who finds form that week.

Outside of this Olympic cycle, Josh Junior did compete in the 2016 Olympics, with mixed race results - but it was his first Olympic regatta, and competitors rarely medal in their first Olympics.

For Maloney his achievements have been quite outstanding - he moved into the Finn class, after missing out on the Laser nomination for 2016. In the intervening four and a bit years, he has managed to put on 20kg of weight and has won the America's Cup twice - meaning he is only part-time in the Finn as his primary time demand is from the training associated with those winning Cup campaigns - where ETNZ comes first second and third.

Having Maloney in the coach boat should work well for NZ's chances of a Gold medal, in the Finn at Enoshima. Its a unique approach, and in the Olympic Regatta environment with the coaches penned down one end of the course, a sharp pair of eyes is essential. With a good understanding of the gear being used and settings, Maloney should be able to spot issues that might escape a coach that had not also been a training and development partner.

An imperfect selection system

While the subjective selection system which has been used in New Zealand post 2004, at least, can produce some harsh outcomes. It was exactly the same for the selection trials system which was used from 1956 to 2000. Some very tight results often determined selection - evidenced by Graham Mander who finished a very close second to his brother in 1956, and could have overturned that result on protest - which he lodged, but too late. Then in 1968 he again finished second after losing three race wins on the last leg of the trial when leading. Or 1980 in the final race of the Tornado trials where the two leading competitors sailed back and forth at the top mark for the final rounding in a very strong breeze, unable to get through the "Valley of Death" as they attempted to sail downwind without capsizing in the bear-away. Eventually one pulled off the risky maneuver and went on to win the nomination. And there are many more similar instances.

Of course the other downfall of the selection trials system is that one team has to pony up with the committment and expense of sailing in the Olympic qualifying regattas, and then coming back to New Zealand and having to defend "their" Olympic spot against all comers - at a local venue where they had been training while the top boat was overseas.

The point is that there is no perfect system, otherwise everyone would be using it. The current system is less imperfect than the others - particularly when the sailors involved know the criteria and can self determine the selection outcome prior to the Olympic selectors meeting - which should come as no surprise, and not be contentious.

Worrying Kiwi Olympic trend

In the media flurries over the Finn nomination, the point that got missed was that despite qualifying under one system or another in all ten events for Tokyo2020, New Zealand will only be sending teams in six of the ten events. Missing the cut is the Womens Two Person dinghy (470), the Womens One Person Dinghy (Laser Radial) , the Womens Windsurfer and Mens Windsurfer. Three of those are Womens events.

Despite winning qualification places for the 2016 Rio Olympics, New Zealand chose not to send crews in three events - Womens One Person Dinghy, Womens Windsurfer and Mens Windsurfer. The trend is going the wrong way, is entrenched and is repeating in terms of the events, which is killing the domestic base and ability to have a benchmark sailor with Olympic experience and ranking.

Of course all the current selection process is taking place against the backdrop of a postponed Tokyo2020 Olympics, and with lockdowns in place in several prefectures in Japan. The worst affected regions are in northern Japan and around Tokyo itself including the Kanagawa prefecture where the Olympic Sailing regatta is to take place. It is the most populous prefecture/province.

While the death and positive test cases are starting to drop in Japan, they were at an all-time high a week earlier.

The International Olympic Committee seems to be of the view that the Olympics will take place, almost no matter what. But we have seen similar scenarios played out in the past, notably with the two America's Cup World Series regattas scheduled for 2020 in Portsmouth and Cagliari - when the situation was allowed to run, and then a Force Majeure situation was declared by the Arbitration Panel and both regattas shut down within a couple of weeks of each other.

There were two lockdowns in the America's Cup regatta in Auckland. These were government imposed and brought proceedings to a halt very quickly. It is impossible to run a sailing regatta under an Alert Level 3 and certainly Alert Level 4. Running under Alert Level 2 is very difficult - even with just four teams involved, and certainly nothing on the scale of the Olympics.

It is all very well, as the IOC are quick to point out, that some sports events have taken place in Tokyo under some form of lockdown/alert level. However it is quite a different situation when there are 50 sports involved and almost 340 events, with athletes from around 160 countries and with officials and media on top of that number.

Having said that there have been major scares ahead of the last three Olympics which have prompted speculation that the Games will be called off, and most of it came to naught. However this one has quite a different feel to it. With the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, it certainly was a health issue but not a pandemic. No-one was dying at the current rates. The emergency measures haven been extended until the end of June, and the only preliminary regatta, having been postponed once is now cancelled. The teams are due to arrive on July 14 - just two weeks beyond the current projected end of the emergency measures. The IOC's approach of putting the Olympic competitors into a bubble, and keeping them there is a great theory, but requires a lot of discipline which doesn't seem to be apparent in Lockdowns when people are away from their homes.

The Ocean Race Europe starts tonight

On the positive side, sailing is getting underway again around the world. The second series of Season 2 of SailGP will be sailed next weekend in Taranto in southern Italy venue for the first-ever Italy Sail Grand Prix. Eight teams are entered with some crew changes coming in, including replacements for Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Erica Dawson who have been called away to attend to Olympic duties. Ben Ainslie is also stepping off the British boat, being replaced by Paul Goodison.

The Ocean Race starts a new event on its calendar, The Ocean Race Europe which gets underway tonight from Lorient, France stopping in Genova, Italy thence to Cascais Portugal and finishing in Genova, Italy on June 19. There are seven teams in the VO65 division and five in the IMOCA60's which will be sailing fully crewed, or with five aboard, for the first time. Running through the crew lists there are some familiar names - Chris Nicholson, Charlie Enright, Boewe Bekking and Simeon Tienpont - but few Kiwis, the notable exception being Conrad Colman sailing as navigator aboard the Lithuanian entry Ambersail-2. Check out the teams and sailors here www.theoceanrace.com/en/europe/teams

For all the latest news from NZ and around the world, see the top stories below.

Between newsletters, you can follow all the racing and developments in major and local events on www.sail-world.com/nz or by scrolling to the top of the site, select New Zealand, and get all the latest news and updates from the sailing world.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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