Cook Islands Olympic class sailors, Teau McKenzie (Laser Radial) and Taua Henry (Laser) have hit the water in the Sailing World Cup Melbourne with qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games firmly in their sights.
This week’s regatta, hosted out of the St Kilda sailing precinct on Port Phillip, is the perfect opportunity for the young sailors to achieve their dream through competing in a regional competition which is also the Oceanic Olympic Games qualification regatta.
McKenzie and Henry are previous members of World Sailing’s Emerging Nations Program which proved to be an important component in their development of these sailors as they grew from sailing Optimists in their early teens through to the Laser class.
McKenzie, 20, has been sailing since she was 12 and started international competition in 2009. “I competed in the Pacific Mini Games held in the Cook Islands, and I won bronze. Then I went to the Youth Olympics in 2010 in Singapore and after that to other Pacific Games and to events in Australia and New Zealand.
“I went to the Santander World Championships in 2014 under the Emerging Nations Program. Having the program has helped us a lot; being able to travel to the host nation and gain the experience,” McKenzie said. “It has given me opportunities to go to competitions I would never have dreamed of. Being able to race with people from all around the world; for me that was an amazing experience. It goes to show we can go places even though we are from the Pacific. Hopefully this will build up for the next generation of Cook Islands sailors.”
Henry, 25, started sailing in a wooden Optimist when he was nine. From there he went to the plastic Optimist and then upgraded to a Laser. “We had the double-hulled Sunburst, but it was kind of slow and we needed something quick. The only other option was the Laser,” Henry said. He started travelling overseas for international competition in 2007 and has since participated in eight of the Emerging Nations camps.
“The camps have kept me driving through the years to keep improving and going into an Olympic campaign they have really helped a lot. Competing overseas and meeting up with the same sailors has created a sailing family for me,” he added.
Both sailors want one thing from this week; to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition.
They have been on the road to this dream for three years, spending long months in Europe racing in among the top of their class. With Olympic qualification imminent, the pair have spent the last four weeks working intensely with Aussie coach Laura Baldwin at her training facility just north of Sydney.
McKenzie wants to end up in the top 10 in the Laser Radials, guaranteeing her a place in Sunday’s Medal Race. Henry hopes to achieve a top 20 place against a fleet of 34 experienced international competitors.
Racing in the Laser and Laser Radial classes continues through to Sunday’s Medal Races on the stadium course off St Kilda Pier when the Sailing World Cup Melbourne final results will be decided and the winners rewarded.