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Meech adapts as Olympic countdown starts again

by Yachting New Zealand 24 Jul 08:40 BST
Bronze for Sam Meech (NZL) in the Laser class at the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

Sam Meech should have been in the final throes of preparation for the Tokyo Olympics but the countdown clock has been reset due to Covid-19 and he's looking to make the most of it.

Tomorrow should have seen the opening ceremony at the Japan National Stadium but instead today marks 12 months out from the rescheduled Games.

Meech is one of seven sailors already named in the New Zealand team to compete at the Tokyo Olympics and is guaranteed his place despite the delay. He would have spent most of his time since February's Laser world championships in Melbourne in Europe and Japan but has instead been based in New Zealand, which is a foreign concept for someone who typically chases the summer.

"It's been a little while [since I've had a winter in New Zealand] and when we do come back we usually take a bit of time off," the Olympic bronze medallist said. "It's pretty hard to sail at this time of year because we get a lot of offshore breezes and the feel for the shifts is pretty specific to New Zealand.

"I try to train for the Olympic venue and everything we are doing now is working towards that. On those cold, winter days, it's remembering that the Olympics is what we are working towards."

There are worse places to be than sailing off Takapuna beach, even with a breezy south-westerly ripping through. There are also a good number of events for Meech and the other members of the NZL Sailing Team to participate in to keep their race sharpness.

This has included regular racing on Elliott 7s alongside members of Emirates Team New Zealand, team camps in Northland in conditions similar to those found at the Olympic venue in Enoshima and participation at various domestic regattas.

Olympic 49erFX silver medallists Alex Maloney and Molly Meech lined up in a fleet of 40 boats at the recent 29er national championships and Sam Meech regularly flies around in his Moth and has plans to compete in both the keelboat national championships and match racing national championships.

“The delay has impacted our sailors in different ways,” Yachting New Zealand high performance director Ian Stewart said. “For some, it makes it tougher and for others it creates opportunities and a chance to close the performance gap.

“We’ve had to be quite creative to facilitate training partners and we’re also looking to compete in all domestic competitions to stay race sharp in the absence of international competition.

“Although the delay was difficult, our athletes have moved through it pretty quickly. These guys are top performers because they are adaptable and take opportunities that come along.”

Meech is fortunate in that he has strong training partners in the likes of former world championships bronze medallist George Gautrey and youngster Luke Cashmore.

It's a similar situation in some other classes in this country but there is a paucity of training partners for other Olympic hopefuls like men's 470 pair Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox, who have sought the help of former 470 world champion Simon Cooke to provide some meaningful training opportunities.

"We don’t really know what the next few months will look like internationally but all we can do is take it as it comes and work on what we can by ourselves in New Zealand,” Meech said. “That means having the best training partners, going to the best venues and simulating the best racing we can. With such a long buildup there are no excuses not to be fit by the time of the Games.

“We will then look to take advantage of any opportunities we get for any top racing in the next 12 months.”

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