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NZL Sailing Team: Tom Saunders heads to Mexico for World ILCA 7 title defence

by Michael Brown/Yachting NZ 24 May 00:01 NZST
Tom Saunders (NZL) - ILCA 7 - NZL Sailing Team - Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères - April 2022 © Sailing Energy/FFVOILE

Tom Saunders is heading into his ninth ILCA 7 world championships but knows this one will be a bit different to the rest.

That's because the 29-year-old goes in as defending champion after winning last year's world title in Barcelona.

It was a breakthrough performance for Saunders, who has regularly been in and around the world's top 10 over the past decade, and he became only the second Kiwi to win the ILCA 7 (Laser) world title since the first event in 1974.

"It’s great knowing I have won it before, and that brings a lot of confidence," he said. "If anything, it’s a lot more exciting to come in and try to defend your title and I feel like I have the right tools to try to figure out how to do that. I’m probably a lot more excited than previous world championships."

The ILCA 7 is arguably the most competitive of all the Olympic classes and Saunders estimates as many as 10 of the 127 sailors who have gathered in Riviera Nayarit in Mexico have the potential to finish on top.

That list includes the likes of Olympic champion Matt Wearn from Australia, two-time world champion Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus, who also won last month in Hyeres, and regular contender Philipp Buhl from Germany.

The conditions expected over the six days of racing - a sea breeze typically builds slowly throughout the day and gets up to about 20 knots - could also suit the favourites.

"It’s a great venue for all the contenders," Saunders said. "A good, solid breeze, nothing too random. I think it’s going to be quite a low-scoring event so I just need to come out and be onto it from day one.

"It’s going to be a bit of a speed trap. Every day is going to be more or less the same so everyone will have the speed. It will come down to execution and keeping on top of all the little things, like the heat, because days four, five and six is when the wheels could fall off."

Complicating things is the fact both Saunders and fellow Kiwi George Gautrey have had their buildups affected by illness but they have recovered and have been in Mexico for a couple of weeks so have managed to get in plenty of good training.

They also come in off the back of two good events in Palma and Hyeres over the past six weeks.

Saunders was fifth at the World Cup Series event in Palma but suffered three disqualifications at the French Olympic Week regatta in Hyeres, which blew out his scorecard. His other results there were tidy, including a race win and five scores inside the top four, so he knows he's quick.

"Hopefully the bad luck doesn’t continue," he said. "I think I’ve had a great buildup this year, with Palma and Hyeres. I got a lot out of those two events and proved to myself again that I can contend. I feel pretty confident heading into next week."

Gautrey also goes into the world championships in good form - he finished in the top 10 in Hyeres - and with a proven track record having finished third at the 2019 world championships.

Luke Cashmore and Luke Deegan round out the four-strong New Zealand squad and will also be out to make an impression when racing gets under way on Tuesday (NZ time).

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