The 31-year-old created history in December 2019 when he became the first Kiwi to win the prestigious Finn Gold Cup (world championships) since it was first contested in 1956. That regatta, however, happens to be the last time Junior and fellow Kiwi Andy Maloney raced in the Finn.
There are good reasons for that, most notably the interruptions caused by Covid-19, but there was also the small manner of their role in defending the America’s Cup with Emirates Team New Zealand and more latterly New Zealand’s entry in SailGP.
It means it’s a difficult proposition over the coming days for Junior and Maloney to recapture the form that had them among the world’s best Finn sailors in 2019 and to do it against a quality fleet fine-tuning ahead of the Olympics.
“It’s extremely exciting to be back in the Finn,” Junior said. “Both Andy and I have been looking forward to it and it’s great to be back in Europe racing the rest of the fleet.
“We have put in a bit of work and been training with the rest of the fleet here. I think we will finish this regatta and wish we had more time but we are definitely ready and excited to get out there and see where we stack up.”
As many as 59 sailors from 33 nations will race in Porto over five days, and big swells are forecast which will add to the physical demands.
Four former world championships will also be lining up, including four-time winner and Olympic champion Giles Scott, Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz, who also won last month’s European championships, as well as 2013 champion Jorge Zarif from Brazil and 2017 winner Max Salminen from Sweden.
Maloney has also proved his credentials in the heavyweight dinghy, having picked up medals at a number of major international regattas throughout 2018 and 2019. He was also fourth at the Olympic test event in Enoshima two years ago and sixth at the 2019 Finn Gold Cup.
Both Junior and Maloney credit a lot of their success to the fact they have worked so closely together throughout this Olympic cycle, believing it will give New Zealand a better chance of winning gold in Tokyo. Only one, however, can compete at the Olympics which will add another layer of intrigue at the Finn Gold Cup.
Junior and Maloney are realistic about their chances and know they have a lot of work to do before heading to Japan in July.
“I really don’t know,” Junior said when asked how he expects to go. “It is going to be interesting to see how we race. It’s definitely more about trying to remember all of the things we used to do and getting back to that level. I think anything’s a possibility. We just need to go out there and race well and see what happens.
“It’s certainly reassuring to know we were heading down the right direction [before Covid-19] but it’s been a long time since we have raced and it will be interesting to see how the fleet has developed and what steps we need to take to keep improving. I’m looking forward to that.”
They’re also looking forward to their bodies re-adjusting to Finn sailing after being involved in both the America’s Cup and SailGP.
“It’s had its challenges,” Maloney admitted. “It’s obviously a lot different to the America’s Cup and SailGP. We have to use our legs a lot more so we have had pretty sore legs the last 10 days or so, but that’s all part of it.
“We have spent a lot of time in the Finn now so it all comes back a lot quicker than it did a few years ago. It’s been good fun being back in the boat and racing against the rest of the fleet in training.”