New Zealand has an illustrious history in the Finn class at the Olympic Games and if recent form is a guide, Josh Junior (NZL) will be one of the medal favourites this year in Rio. Previously Russell Coutts (NZL) won gold in 1984, and John Cutler (NZL) and Craig Monk (NZL) won bronze in 1988 and 1992.
Cutler has been coaching Junior, and Andrew Murdoch (NZL), for the past four years, passing on a lot of knowledge and experience. Junior said, “I have learnt a lot from him. He has a very broad skill set and a lot to offer and teach. I have been fortunate enough to have him as my coach these past four years and have learnt a lot from him. He brought with him the skills from winning bronze in the Finn class in 1988 and coaching Craig Monk to bronze in 1992, along with multiple America’s Cup campaigns and other sailing. This has helped me learn about a lot of different areas of sailing.”
Junior was given his first boat, an Optimist, when he was eight years old, and was immediately hooked on sailing. He comes from Worser Bay Boating Club in Wellington, famous for its strong winds and testing conditions. Since then he has been dreaming of winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
Coming from a sailing family, it is a lifestyle for Junior as much as a career. “When I’m not focusing on my Olympic campaign you are likely to find me cruising on my small classic yacht in Wellington.”
Junior narrowly missed selection for the 2012 Olympics in the Laser class. He was beaten to the spot by Murdoch who placed fifth in both Qingdao in 2008 and in London in 2012. Both sailors switched to the Finn for their 2016 campaigns and trained together for three years.
Junior won selection to the Rio test event in 2015 and sailed well to finish fifth. However once into the NZL trials he slipped up at the 2015 Finn Gold Cup in Takapuna, and struggled all week to end up a lowly 14th, while Murdoch sailed one of his best regattas to place fourth.
However as the 2016 season began, Junior came into his own and picked up fourth place at the European championship, and then won the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma, to become the only Finn sailor heading to Rio to have beaten the gold medal favourite Giles Scott (GBR) in the past four years. Another fourth place in Hyeres wrapped up his trials and selection to Rio was assured.
“My final preparations are going well. I spent a lot of time in Rio getting used to the conditions and there was always a good fleet to check my speed against and for great racing to practice on all the courses we will be sailing in the Games. I also used this time to tickle up my boat and get the ‘tightey whitey’ (my boat name) ready to race.”
He says he likes the Rio environment. “The climate is always warm, which is nice, and the landscape is pretty spectacular too.”
Junior credits his training partner, Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) as helping fast track his learning and preparation. “PJ has been a really great training partner. He has a lot of experience in the Finn class, with this being his third Olympics in the Finn class. He has a lot of strengths and is obviously one of the great Finn sailors, which I am lucky to have learnt from. He has spent several Kiwi summers down in New Zealand training with me which has helped me improve a lot, especially my upwind speed, due to different technique and equipment.”
Like a lot of sailors Junior has spent considerable time in Rio to learn the conditions. “The Games will be my sixth trip to Rio. Rio isn’t like anywhere else to sail. There is a lot going on with the topography, the current, the waves and the wind. All the courses offer something different so it challenges all sailing skills, which will make for a really exciting regatta.”
The says he has tried to cover as much of the race courses as possible, even though he may not get to race on them during the Games. During the test event last year, fleets were moved around the course areas when conditions either outside the harbour or inside the harbour restricted racing taking place. “There are seven different courses, four being inside the harbour and three out of the bay in the big swells. We are scheduled to sail on four of these different courses but you never know what can happen so it’s safe to have an idea on what goes on in all the courses.”
Even though Junior is one of the favourites, he knows as well as anyone that Rio can be unpredictable and extremely challenging. Without a doubt, it is going to be the toughest challenge of his career. Racing for the Finns is scheduled to begin on Tuesday 9 August.