Alex Maloney and Molly Meech next month get to gauge their capacity to win an Olympic gold medal in 2020.

Their world championship campaign begins on August 4 at Aarhus, Denmark, a city on the relatively sheltered east coast of Jutland peninsula.

The regatta marks two years before they push to improve on their silver medal from Rio.
The pair have known each other years, but made their mark combining in the 49er FX class from December 2012.

They won the following year's world championships off Marseille, and have forged one of New Zealand's most successful sailing partnerships.


Maloney and Meech have finished outside the top 10 of 42 elite regattas twice, and have not finished outside the top five since the Olympics.

They maintain a youthful zeal, but with Maloney aged 26 and Meech 25, they are also privy to a reservoir of experience.

The pair come from matching backgrounds. Both had parents who sailed them around the world as young children; both have older brothers — Sam and Andy respectively — who have sailed for New Zealand; and both planned an ambitious assault on the 49er FX knowing the class would debut at the 2016 Olympics. They learned the practicalities of sailing at a young age on many oceans and seas.

Meech works as crew on the 49er FX, hoisting and dropping the kite and working the mainsheet upwind. Maloney helms the boat, making tactical decisions.

The Herald joined them on the shores of Castor Bay as they prepared to train before leaving next week.

"We talk when we can, especially upwind discussing the best way to go," Meech says.

"Alex has a better outlook for the race course. Downwind she's making a lot of decisions and there's a lot of trust going on."

The pair are evangelists for their regatta routines.

"We always rig up the boat on the first day," says Maloney.

"Then we get to the supermarket as soon as we can," Meech chimes in.

"It's fairly fine-tuned," acknowledges Maloney.

"We know how to be around each other," Meech adds. "We rent places off sites like Airbnb and like to cook healthy food like wraps and salads."

Their in-sync responses reflect years of teamwork, tapping in and out of each other's lives, and the telepathy that emerges.

Several of their key rivals return for the world championships after the Volvo Ocean Race.

Meech and Maloney want to improve on last year's bronze medal at class-specific world championships off Portugal, or at least finish in the top eight to qualify the boat for the
Tokyo Olympics.

"The worlds are our immediate focus. Then it'll be primarily learning about Japan and performing well pre-Olympics," Meech says.

The pair have already journeyed to Enoshima, the 2020 Games venue which was also used for the 1964 edition.

"We were up there last October," Meech says.

"The offshore shifty conditions reminded us of sailing the bays here [in Auckland].

"There were also the onshore conditions, which can be quite wavy with soft breezes.

"It could be hot in August, which might make it one of the hottest Olympics on record."

The pair will eventually plan beyond the Games.

"In Olympic sailing we get good opportunities; it's fair and competitive," Maloney says.

"I think it's also a pathway to professional sailing on bigger boats and racing teams. [The opportunities for women] are definitely growing," she says.

Examples include the recent Volvo Ocean Race where teams were allowed a maximum of seven males, but every other permitted combination involved women.

That resulted in every boat having a female sailor onboard at some stage.

The Tokyo Olympics provides a 50/50 split for male and female sailors.

However, no compulsory quotas are in place for the next America's Cup.

"It's tricky knowing the best way to develop these things," Maloney says.

"To be honest, I don't even know the best approach, but it'd be awesome to see more females involved at a higher level because there's quite a big disparity at the moment.

"It's hard to know what's best because females don't want to feel like a token member on teams. We want to grow our skill sets and compete with the best."

The pair came from a World Match Racing Tour regatta in Sweden this month where they sailed the M32 class boats alongside fellow Kiwis Jo Aleh and Liv Mackay.

Maloney says women can perform different roles on big boats.

"Physique does come into it, so it's knowing where you might fit, but navigation, tactics or trim roles spring to mind, depending on how each boat is set up."

Wherever they end up, their role as pioneers of the women's sailing world is worth a watching brief.