You nailed the start. Off the line you were fully powered up and a click faster. The first shift went your way. You were totally in sync with the waves. You had a hotline to the wind Gods. The boat was just an extension of your being. The rest of the Gold fleet were mere collateral damage on your way to glory. And there you are, with the finish line in sight, belting downwind, surfing on every bump in the road. Take a glance backwards and there’s your entire generation in your wake. Mum & Dad will be so proud. Granny will smile. You’re the King of all you survey. The world is literally at your feet. What a feeling.
Just take a look at this shot above. That’s everything. That’s what sailboat racing is all about. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Lake Garda (“always go right at Garda”) at the recent Optimist meeting. Young Italian sailor, and nailed on future superstar, Alex Demurtas thoroughly enjoying a good 100 metre lead – otherwise known as ‘a lifetime’ in One Design racing – powering downhill on his way to the top spot in the medal race. The exhilaration. The thrill. It happens in all but fleeting moments for the rest of us but when it does, it makes racing magical. The hours on the water all come together in one. The hard work of winter training, morning runs, lecture room analysis and teaching, tweaking, preparing and then bringing it all to the table and performing.
Chapeau to Alex…welcome to racing’s rarefied enclosure and enjoy every moment of your time to shine. There’s a legion of sailors reading this now who all know the feeling. For most of us it’s a fleeting memory. Memory of those butterflies in your stomach as you lead the fleet, sailing at its purest when all that mattered was boatspeed and maintaining position. Wonderful, just wonderful, when it happens.
And having conquered that most tricky of fleets in the Optimists, the Olympic pathway is set. Drive and ambition plus a healthy dose of support, coaching, mentoring and total, utter commitment and determination see the cream rise to the pantheon of the five rings. A lifetime’s ambition rests on performances stretched out over an undefined period with the ultimate nod coming from your national authority. Long gone are the days of an Olympic trial event. In place is performance monitoring and judgement over time. Consistency is key where even a win at a prestigious world championship may not be enough to secure the nod.
So it would seem for poor Andy Maloney in the Finn class who misses out on possibly his only and final shot at going to the Olympics to represent New Zealand. The affable Josh Junior secured the slot and it’s just gutting for Maloney having missed out on the Rio spot in 2016 by one place. However way you dice this, it’s cruel. It’s hard. It’s absolutely soul-destroying. Enough to turn a man to drink in later years. “I coulda been a contender” is the lament of the journeyman boxer. “I could have medalled” is the Olympic sailor’s repeal. But something tells me Maloney is built from different stuff to you and I. He’s cut from a different cloth and I have nothing but admiration for how he’s taken his exclusion:
“I’m obviously disappointed to not be competing in Tokyo but can be happy with my progression in the Finn over the Olympic cycle. Thanks to Josh and our coaches I can bow out of the Finn as the world champ, which is pretty cool. Josh sailed incredibly well through our selection series, winning the 2019 world championships and then following it up with another spot on the podium this year. He’s quick and racing really well, so I can’t wait to continue pushing him over the next two months and supporting him through these final stages of the campaign.”
What a guy heh? Selfless, generous in his support of Junior, focused, optimistic, utterly magnanimous in defeat but committed to the programme that he and his best mate set out on. It’s remarkable. It’s highly classy and you can’t help but think that this display of attitude from Maloney is going to serve him incredibly well in the future. If you were putting together an America’s Cup team or a round the world tilt in the pro ranks then it’s team-players like Maloney that you want. The world of sailing has watched this selection with high interest. I pity the poor New Zealand selectors having to choose between these two. It’s akin to asking to pick who is your favourite child. Tough. Tough. Tough.
Have the selectors made the right decision? Well only time will tell but I would love to see the reaction from Josh Junior if he struck gold in Tokyo. I’ll lay a fair penny that there will be high reference to his mate who missed out. It would be a moment in our sport and rather fitting for the final Finn Olympic regatta ever. What a story to stuff down the throats of the IOC and World Sailing as a final goodbye.
We won’t see this again.