Top of the World

Tom Saunders reminded me of why I am such a fan of Kiwi sailors in a fabulous Zoom interview with the New Zealand Herald after winning one of THE titles in world sailing. ‘Laser World Champion’ (Or is it ILCA?) is a hell of a thing to say you have achieved but the affable Saunders took it in his stride. Polite, courteous, grateful, modest, respectful – pick the word, it was all on display as he flew the Kiwi flag high and proud – a better ambassador for the country and the sport you couldn’t find. Bravo Tom. What a result.


And the sheer dedication required of Kiwi athletes at the moment, is extraordinary. Getting back into New Zealand is a nightmare of booking government MIQ facility slots, quarantine effectively, and being forced to stay abroad for far longer than intended. Tom will be lucky to spend Christmas Day back home as he’s got to hang out in Europe waiting for his 12th December slot.

That’s a long party…If it were the summer months, he could get around to a few more regattas but the northern hemisphere is cold and getting colder right now. Clubs are well into their weekend winter frostbite programmes but for the elite athletes on the Olympic trail, it’s all about finding training partners and coaches to hone the finest of margins.


Tom could do worse than driving up to the UK and heading to the British sailing centre at Weymouth. He’d be more than welcome as Laser World Champion. The programme there is relentless as the UK seeks desperately for a medal in the Laser at Paris 2024.

The pressure is right on the coaches and the sailors to deliver as British sailing doesn’t tolerate failure for very long and they’ll be analysing everything from a poor Tokyo Games to a big miss at this Worlds. Easy to blame the sailors but should it be the coaching structure that’s put under the spotlight? Tough, and I don’t have the answers, but something’s not quite clicking and there’s simply no hiding place in the four-ring programme with Ian Walker overseeing everything.


But with Tom Saunders, has the next Kiwi legend been found? A medal at Paris and he’s hot property. Emirates Team New Zealand will have the rule run all over his abilities and you can bet that there are TP52 owners keeping tabs on his progress.

As Tom said: “It’s nice to break through” in his interview with the Herald and that’s the key. You have to smash your way to the top table by banging in results, necking medals and playing the politics. To get right to the top takes something extra. Russell Coutts won that unlikely Finn Gold in 1984 after a huge fight over the legality of his clothing being too heavy when wet but his insistence and persistence to prove that he was right, was a marker of his determination that we would see for years to come on the international circuit.

That little bit extra. That something. That ‘Je ne sais quoi.’ It’s what defines the very best from the best. What we saw this week in Barcelona was a new talent emerging and blossoming from years of ‘so close’ campaigning and it’s great to see. Handling the media and the pressure was a masterclass and Tom’s consistency, whilst also winning a race (can you really call yourself World Champion if you don’t ace a race?), was remarkable. It’s one of the stand-out performances of the year and a highlight on the Kiwi sporting success roster for 2021.


And the spotlight remains on New Zealand going into next week with the Protocol announcement. The Kiwi Defence team have been on the front foot corralling the membership of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron to question the tactics of Emirates Team New Zealand but it’s a hill of beans and being parried on the gloves by both the Defender and the Club. The Challenger of Record is in lockdown, terrified of Jim’s response to any leaks and so we wait. It’s actually all quite dull but come the announcement, I have a funny feeling that as Cup watchers we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Things aren’t as dire as assumed and the cards have been played close to the chest by Grant Dalton with the media well manipulated. Don’t expect that to change.

A bit like the UK government, we pretty much know what’s coming well before it’s officially announced, although there’s still no confirmation on which venues have signed for the overseas events, but there’s much hope around AC37. Right now the noise of nothing is deafening and the void is filling with every shade of black but expect the wall of sound to build to an absolute crescendo as the Protocol gets aired. The Cup’s going on its travels but the Match will be in Auckland, that’s what I think makes sense.

But who knows…? Those that know aren’t talking and those that are talking don’t know. It was ever thus in the Cup.

One thought on “Top of the World

  1. Magnus,
    If the Cup Match is in Auckland so will be the CSS!
    I can’t fathom that the RYS, Bicket, Ratcliffe, etc signing a Protocol which has the CSS somewhere else from the Venue of the Cup Match.

    Richard Gladwell says the Cup Venue won’t be known until the end of March 2022.

    Liked by 1 person

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