The pair were thrilled to collect silver in the 49erFX at last year’s Rio Olympics but feel there is “unfinished business” as a combination, meaning they will put together a campaign they hope ends with a gold medal in Tokyo.
Maloney and Meech both took time away from sailing after Rio to review their campaign but also assess whether they wanted to campaign for the Tokyo Olympics.
“We had a bit of downtime to reflect on the Olympics and the past four years and then a bit of time to switch off and really enjoy a break because we have both been sailing for going on 10-12 years consistently,” Meech said. “This is the biggest break I have had since I started sailing.
“There was definitely a period in those couple of months when we reflected on everything and decided on what was next, whether it was going to be another campaign or something different, but we both realised we had so much fun last time around. This time we’re aiming for gold.”
That new campaign begins this weekend at the Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta at Murrays Bay, this country’s premier regatta for Olympic and youth classes.
The pair emphasise they will be competing “for fun” but it’s inevitable their competitive nature will come out once in the boat.
“We are getting twitchy, for sure,” Maloney said, and 10 days ago the pair went for their first sail together in the 49erFX since Rio.
They often think about the Olympics and admit life has changed since winning silver. There were parades and school visits – “it was really cool to come home and see how much us doing well meant for the country,” Meech said – but there were also thoughts about what more they could have done to turn it into gold.
“In the couple of months afterwards, you think, ‘what if’,” Maloney said. “We sailed really consistently overall and it was really close. You have to be happy with that. There are definitely things we could have done differently.”
It’s inevitable there will be changes, especially after the move to team up with Nathan Handley, who coached Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie to Olympic gold and silver in London and Rio respectively.
The pair worked with Handley in 2013 when Aleh and Powrie took a break and he was available again following Powrie’s retirement from Olympic sailing.
“It has been impressive to see how much they have grown in the sport and are clearly doing a great job as it is but, looking from the outside, they need to become more consistent,” he said. “Even last season they had a rollercoaster ride before finishing awesomely at the Olympics.
“I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of good yachties over the past few years. Hopefully that knowledge will help give them that winning edge.”
August’s 49er and 49erFX world championships in Portugal are the main goal for the year and Meech and Maloney also plan to compete in World Cup events in Spain, Germany and Tokyo. But 2017 will have more of an emphasis on training in New Zealand.
“The Olympics is four years away so we can’t put the same amount of effort in we did last year for it to be sustainable,” Maloney said. “We have quite a few specific things this year we want to work on but also want to have a bit of balance.”
A good performance at the NZL Sailing Regatta, which is in its first year and will feature more than 140 sailors across the Olympic and youth classes, would be a good way to start.
By Michael Brown // Yachting New Zealand