Big dreams as a kid and 15 years’ worth of training came together to see the first New Zealander, Josh Junior, hold the winning trophy at the Finn Gold Cup (World Championships) in December after an epic regatta in Melbourne, Australia. Junior is coached by former Olympians Andrew Murdoch and John Cutler (bronze in the Finn 1988 Olympics) and works closely with Andy Maloney, who was sixth at the Finn Gold Cup and won two regattas last year.
“I grew up around the yacht club in Wellington, the Worser Bay Boating Club. I started sailing with my dad when I was about six, sailing a Sunburst. He loved racing and my mum and brother loved sailing as well. We spent a lot of time down at the yacht club,” Junior says.
“Eventually, I got my own boat at eight and really started to enjoy it. From then on I have loved sailing. It has been my thing.” The Finn Gold Cup was the pinnacle event of the year for Junior. “We had been building it up all year. We had been putting in a lot of time in training and development on our equipment and were feeling prepared. I was pretty excited to go racing,” he says.
Junior says the biggest challenge during the race was to remain consistent and to always be near the front and to not have any bad races. “I just needed to do the right thing every day and be among it. It is not about winning every race but being near the front in every race. It is more about not having a bad one,” he says. He says staying near the front starts to weigh on your mind towards the end of the regatta. “You are leading and you are like, ‘bloody hell, I really want to stay here’.
You start to feel a bit of pressure but it is also really exciting to be near the front of the fleet and it is also an opportunity,” he says. “It wasn’t anything to be scared of. It was definitely exciting. In terms of the tactical side of things, there are about four to five people who can win the regatta so it is important to stay near them so you definitely start to sail the regatta a little differently, but you also need to do what you think is right as well.” Junior adds there were ‘heaps’ of hairy moments throughout the race.
“It was a long way back in quite a few races but I managed to sail through the fleet really well. I was a little bit lucky there. In the medal race (last race), it was really, really windy and if I capsized, there was a chance I could lose the gold medal so I was pretty nervous. I was just trying to keep the boat upright,” he says. Nick Heiner, from The Netherlands, took silver while 2018 world champion, Zsombor Berecz took bronze.
Junior says it hasn’t quite sunk in that he is a world champion. “Lots of people work their whole lives to try to win a world championship. It is the first world championship in any class I have won so it was so exciting. It was also almost a relief to have done it but at the same time I was over the moon to have finally achieved a goal I set when I was a little kid.
It was pretty satisfying,” he says. “When you are a kid, you dream of winning a world championship. It is something you train 10 to 15 years of your life to try to achieve. “You are racing all the best people in the world so to be able to put all those skills together into one regatta at a world championship and to win it is incredibly special,” Junior says.
“For me, it is still a stepping stone and something you want to improve on. You certainly don’t want it to be the last world championship you win. Andy and I are going to keep working hard and trying to do the same again this year and even better at other events. We see it as a stepping stone to the Olympics, which is the ultimate goal,” he says.
New Zealand has a proud history at the Finn Cup. Jonty Farmer took bronze in 1975 and silver in 1976, and Dan Slater took silver back in 2008. Junior was fourth at last year’s world championships. Russell Coutts won gold in the Finn at the 1984 Olympics and John Cutler (1988) and Craig Monk (1992) collected bronze.
Junior was not aware a Kiwi had not won it until that last event.“They started making a big deal of it halfway through because both Andy [Maloney] and I were going really well. I would have thought another Kiwi had won it, but I guess not.”
A team effort
Junior says his relationship with Andy Maloney and coach Andrew Murdoch is integral to his success. “I’m incredibly lucky to have a team around me. I couldn’t do this without them. Andrew Murdoch is our coach at regattas and John Cutler helps us with technical development. “We also work with David Slyfield who helps manage our Olympic programme,” Junior explains. “Obviously, Andy competes alongside me.
In some ways, we compete against each other but we also work incredibly closely to get better and better. Without those people, we definitely wouldn’t be as good as we are. “The special thing about Andy and me is that we share our information and keep growing off each other and we really push each other to get better.
“The end goal for us is the Olympic gold medal. At the end of the day, only one of us is going to be able to go to the Olympics. “We are not too worried about who goes, but just want to make sure that whoever it is has the best chance of winning a gold medal.
“We are just pushing each other to be better and better and hopefully at the next world championships [in Palma in May], we get first and second,” he says. Both Junior and Maloney are involved with Emirates Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup and were part of the team who won the America’s Cup in Bermuda.
They will be jumping back into that programme for the foreseeable future. Up next, they will be preparing for the 2020 World Championships in May and from there, the focus shifts to Japan. “We will do a couple of regattas before the Olympics itself. It is incredibly exciting and I can’t wait,” says Junior.
Words by: Shannon Williams
Photos: Robert Deaves