Tokyo 2020: Not every recipe is a success

Published on August 16th, 2019

Competing at the Olympic level isn’t about filling a pot with beef broth and vegetables and figuring it’ll taste good in a few minutes. Victory at the Olympic level must simmer, but not every recipe is a success. Sometimes you have try over.

This is what happened for the USA in the Mixed Multihull event when several of the teams switched partners, hoping to improve on the eighth place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics. But this happened mid-quad, and now New Zealand is doing the same but with only a year until Tokyo 2020.

Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders, the fourth place Nacra 17 team from Rio 2016, have split up to form new partnerships, and in total three new Nacra 17 teams have emerged to represent New Zealsnd.

Jones and Saunders were incredibly close to the podium in Rio 2016, but since the Nacra 17 was re-moded into a fully foiling catamaran, the duo found their progress in this new era was short of goals. So with only a year until Tokyo, they made a change. Sometimes the head feels better when you stop banging it against the wall.

While New Zealand is already qualified as a nation in this event for the 2020 Games, they leaves only to see who will rise to the top.

Earlier this year the New Zealand second team of Olivia Mackay and Micah Wilkinson ended their campaign. Despite their Red Bull Foiling Generation win in years past, the young duo couldn’t make their campaign for Tokyo work.

So Saunders will now team up with Mackay and instantly become the Kiwi team with the most combined experience in the Nacra 17, and both are in the same spots on the boat they have been racing in for years.

Jones now teams up with Josh Porebski, the 2013 49er World Championship silver medalist crew, who had switched to helm in the 49er but now ends that campaign, likely noting the road block presented by Rio 2016 gold medalists Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) and seeing Jones as a more viable route to 2020.

The first look of these changes comes at the 2019 Ready Steady Tokyo Olympic Sailing Test Event on August 17-22 in Enoshima, Japan.

The third team of Erica Dawson and Wilkinson will represent the country, and while Dawson is a talented young sailor who formerly raced the 49erFX, she will be moving from the helm position to now crew for Wilkinson, who himself switches from crewing for Mackay to helming.

Got all that?

These three teams each have outstanding pedigree, and despite the last minute nature of the changes, it will be a fascinating experiment to see how quickly these teams can forge effective new partnerships. The Nacra 17 is a boat that demands instinctive yet coordinated work between the skipper and crew, especially to keep the boat in balance on the downwind legs. However, with the new foiling configuration this quad, all teams remain on a steep learning curve so anything could happen.

When making a stew, sometimes you just get lucky.


Racing in Enoshima is scheduled to commence on Saturday August 17. The 49er, 49erFX, Nacra 17, and RS:X fleets will conclude racing on August 21 with the 470s, Laser, Laser Radial, and Finns following on August 22.

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Source: 49er Class, Scuttlebutt

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