Andrew McKenzie collected the biggest result of his career when he finished third in a high-quality field at the Laser European championships in Barcelona.
The 22-year-old went into the final day fifth but a 10th and fifth saw him jump into the medals, only one point off Italy’s Francesco Marrai in second. Two-time world champion Nick Thompson collected the gold medal, banking nine top-10 results in the 11 races including a bullet in the final race.
Thompson wasn’t the only big name in the fleet. McKenzie finished ahead of recently-crowned world champion Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus (fourth), world No 1 Philipp Buhl of Germany (sixth) and Rio silver medallist Tonči Stipanovic of Croatia (ninth).
“The Laser class is always super competitive and this fleet had all the top European sailors,” McKenzie said.
“To beat some of the guys who have been at the top end of the class for a number of years shows that I’m doing something right and there’s no reason why I can’t be up there with them on a regular basis.
“I’m really happy to be taking home the bronze. The points were really tight both in front and behind going into today so it was nice to execute two goods races. I just kept it simple and didn’t take too many big risks. There’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple and focusing on your own plan and processes. A little bit of luck seems to go a long way, too.
“I wanted to bounce back after a disappointing worlds and do that in this fashion feels great.”
McKenzie, who is a member of the Aon Fast Track squad which aims to accelerate the development talented youngsters into Olympians, was 51st at last month’s world championships in Croatia. He was comfortably inside the top 20 in qualifying but was disqualified after crossing the line third in the final race and missed out on the gold fleet to decide the medals.
His result illustrates the depth of New Zealand’s Laser sailors. Olympic bronze medallist Sam Meech missed the European championships but he is being pushed by McKenzie and Tom Saunders, who was fourth at the world championships test event in Denmark, eighth at the world championships and 11th at the Delta Lloyd Regatta in the Netherlands.
Saunders had a disappointing European championships, finishing 23rd in a fleet of 125 boats, and admits it might have been one regatta too many after nearly six months on the road.
“I had a pretty awful regatta,” he said. “I was struggling with motivation this week after my last few events. I’ve been away for a while now. I just need to refocus and set some goals before I head to Japan.
“I’m stoked for Andrew who had a tough time in Croatia so it was cool to see him bounce back so well. We have a great squad moving forward.”
The pair will now head to Japan for a couple of regattas, including one in Enoshima where the Olympics will be held in 2020, before returning to New Zealand for the summer.