What Sets Olympians Apart

Published on August 23rd, 2016

As an Olympic cycle completes and another begins, nations around the world are reviewing their programs and making adjustments for the next quadrennial. But at the root of it all is the sailors.

While training and natural talent are critical, an attribute common in elite competitors is how their connection to the ocean transcends the sport.

Great sailors tend to be water people. Case in point is two of the Olympic medal winning entrants of the New Zealand Sailing Team, as reported by the NZ Newswire

Sibling sailors Sam and Molly Meech will leave Rio with a medal each – Molly a silver in the 49erFX class and Sam a bronze in the Laser. It almost seems a pre-ordained outcome given the pair’s childhood.

They spent nearly a decade being raised on their parents’ cruising yacht, only becoming landlubbers in New Zealand when it was time to start college. However, 25-year-old Sam scotches a suggestion their upbringing set them on a pathway to success at the maiden Olympic appearance for both.

“I wouldn’t say it was our destiny to come to an Olympics,” noted 25-year-old Sam. “But the way we grew up has definitely influenced what we do now. It’s made us love the ocean and sailing. It’s been a massive thing for us.”


New Zealand’s Sam Meech after winning bronze in the Laser Class at the 2016 Rio Olympics. © MARTY MELVILLE/PHOTOSPORT

Parents Deb and Simon purchased the yacht when their two children were toddlers. They spent about two years in the mid-1990s cruising off the Northland coast, with Simon working as a locum.

The time was then right to set sail for England, taking in lengthy stopovers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. At one stage Simon contracted dengue fever, leaving Deb and the children in charge of sailing.

Later, pirates were a threat when they sailed through the parts of the Middle East, while some of the ocean crossings were equally hairy because of the weather.

“At the time, a lot of people said it wasn’t the right thing for us to be doing as a family because we were so young,” Molly said, 23. “But I would disagree completely. What an amazing way to come into the world and see everything, and I think it’s really shaped who we are as people.”


Molly Meech, left, won a silver medal in the women’s 49er FX class with Alex Maloney. © CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES

Molly’s crewmate Alex Maloney did a similar thing, spending about three years of her youth in a family yacht, mostly sailing throughout the Pacific.

Molly says while her memory of the period is hazy, she enjoys looking at photos and hearing stories about their family adventures. She and Sam both studied by correspondence and bonded as brother and sister, which made the Rio experience more special.

“It was awesome to see his dream (Olympic medal) had come true. I was so stoked for him,” she said. “Being so close and stuck on the ocean for weeks on end, Sam and I became great friends. He’s an amazing support for me.”

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