Yachting: 2016 Fast Track squad named

The Aon Fast Track Programme, launched in 2015, aims to accelerate the standard of the most talented youth sailors from top international youth sailors, to become successful Olympic campaigners.

"Providing support to the youth sailors of New Zealand is incredibly important," says David Abercrombie, Yachting New Zealand Chief Executive. "These youngsters are the future of our sport in New Zealand, they're our future Olympic champions, they're our America's Cup sailors, and our future ocean racers."

"The Aon Fast Track programme has given youngsters around New Zealand something additional to aspire to, something that wasn't there before, and something that has certainly had a major impact on these talented young sailors."

"The programme is able to provide support in the areas of coaching, mentoring, strength and conditioning, health, sport science and other areas that help these youngsters accelerate their learning and ultimately their ability to perform on the world stage," says Abercrombie, who adds that the partnership of Aon New Zealand is crucial.

The sailors named today are...

Andrew McKenzie - Laser (20, Kohimarama Yacht Club), Sam Barnett - Men's 470 (19, Tauranga Yacht & Powerboat Club), Zak Merton - Men's 470 (19, Tauranga Yacht & Powerboat Club), Trent Rippey - 49er (19, Tauranga Yacht & Powerboat Club), Isaac McHardie - 49er (18, Hamilton Yacht Club/Wakatere Boating Club), Logan Dunning-Beck - 49er ( 22, Wakatere Boating Club), Jack Simpson - 49er (20, Wakatere Boating Club), Erica Dawson - 49erFX (21, Murrays Bay Sailing Club), Ellie Copeland - 49erFX (20, Wakatere Boating Club), Olivia MacKay - Nacra 17 (19, Napier Sailing Club), Micah Wilkinson - Nacra 17 (20, Ngaroto Sailing Club)

Already competing on the world stage, this group of sailors has been identified through their performance as the up-and-comers who have the talent, and the commitment to reach for NZL Sailing Team status.

Like the NZL Sailing Team sailors, they come from grass roots yacht clubs around the country and have risen through the ranks through hard work and dedication, and are already making their mark on the international stage.

Olivia MacKay (Napier Sailing Club) and Micah Wilkinson (Ngaroto Sailing Club), who sail the Olympic mixed gender multihull, recently competed at the Nacra 17 class contested their World Championships in Clearwater, Florida where they were the top under-23 team and 19th overall in the world class fleet.

"We have learnt a lot this week," report the pair after the event. "It's the longest and hardest regatta with the most ups and downs we have ever done. We now know what a full 16 race world champs in challenging conditions is like and what it takes to stay on top of your game for six days straight."

"There were races where we were one of the fastest boats in the fleet, and there were races that we were one of the slowest. We have a massive pile of work-ons over the coming months and its stacking up to be very exciting."

The strong contingent of skiff sailors in the Aon Fast Track Squad reflects current strength and depth in the Olympic 49er and 49erFX classes in New Zealand, perhaps unsurprising with role models like Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in the 49er, and Alex Maloney and Molly Meech in the 49erFX around.

All three skiff sailing pairs named in the Aon Fast Track Squad have recently competed at their respective class World Championships alongside their NZL Sailing Team compatriots at the 2016 49er and 49erFX World Championships also sailed in Clearwater, Florida concurrent to the Nacra class.

Erica Dawson (Murrays Bay Sailing Club) and Ellie Copeland (Wakatere Boating Club) impressed in the 49erFX, a class that will make its Olympic debut this year. Earning a spot in the gold fleet through their performance over the opening half of the regatta they went on to place 19th overall at the pinnacle international event where the world's best gathered.

The Wakatere Boating Club combination of Logan Dunning Beck (helm) and Jack Simpson (crew) placed 35th in the fleet of 65 boats, their score card included four top ten finishes including a 2nd place in their last race.

Trent Rippey, from Tauranga Yacht & Powerboat Club, and Isaac McHardie, who is the youngest member of the Squad at 18 years old and represents both the Hamilton Yacht Club and Wakatere Boating Club, finished in 44th also collecting three top ten places along the way.

Sam Barnett and Zak Merton, both from the Tauranga Yacht & Powerboat Club, represented New Zealand in the 420 class graduating into the Olympic 470 class early in last competing at 2015 Oceanbridge Sail Auckland. They also took part in two Sailing World Cup Regattas last year, in Melbourne and Qingdao and are currently in San Isidro, Argentina for the 2016 470 World Championships which get underway on February 22nd.

Andrew McKenzie, from the Kohimarama Yacht Club, is the Aon Fast Track Squad's Laser campaigner. The 20 year old is the current Laser National Champion in New Zealand and a two-time national representative in the NZL Yachting Trust Youth Team to compete at the World Sailing Youth Championships in 2012 and 2013.

"With sailing I want to go all the way to the Olympic Games and hopefully bring home a medal for New Zealand," says Andrew McKenzie.

"What I love about sailing is the competitive nature and getting out on the water and being in that environment which is always changing. One day's never the same as the next."

Delivering support to the Aon Fast Track behind the scenes at Yachting New Zealand are Ian Neely and Stuart Thomas. Neely is Yachting New Zealand's Talent Development Manager and leads the programme with the help of Thomas who is Yachting New Zealand's Youth Coordinator.

Yachting New Zealand and Aon New Zealand share the vision that supporting New Zealand's emerging talent is the critical to our on-going success as a world heavy-weight in the sport of sailing.

"Without the support of Aon New Zealand, the Aon Fast Track Programme would not be able to take place," says David Abercrombie.

Geoff Blampied, CEO of Aon New Zealand is delighted to see the Aon Fast Track Programme gaining momentum as it moves into its second year.

"Aon New Zealand is very pleased to support young kiwi sailors through our close partnership with Yachting New Zealand," he says. "I would like to congratulate the sailors named today and wish them all the very best for a great year of competition."

- NZ Herald

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