It’s expected a new programme many of New Zealand’s top female sailors wished was in place when they were younger ensures long-term success on the international stage but also a greater connection within this country’s sailing network.
Yachting New Zealand women’s sailing manager Jenny Armstrong introduced the women’s high performance mentor programme in December, pairing six top Olympic campaigners with 13 up-and-coming female sailors aged between 18 and 23.
It’s an idea borne out of Armstrong’s own experiences having participated in High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Te Haipatanga initiative over the past 18 months when she was appointed a coach mentor of her own.
Yachting New Zealand’s version has proved an instant hit, with mentors and mentees catching up at regular intervals. It emphasises females supporting females, greater connection within the New Zealand sailing landscape and fast tracking learning for this country’s next generation of high performance female sailors.
“It’s going great,” Armstrong said. “It has been a great initiative to connect those in the New Zealand Sailing Team with those up-and-comers and to create more of a community downstream of the top sailors.
“The mentors love it at as well. It was incredibly easy to get them on board and many of them wished there was something like this around when they were coming through. They are all really supportive to lend their time.”
Alex Maloney & Oliva Hobbs
Two-time Olympic medallist Polly Powrie is among the group of mentors but she is the only one not presently campaigning to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics. The rest of the group is made up of Jo Aleh, Molly Meech, Alex Maloney, Erica Dawson and Justina Kitchen, who have spent large blocks of their time this year in Europe.
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Jo Aleh & Polly Powrie. Credit Pedro Martinez/Sailing Energy
“One of the other benefits, which I probably didn’t realise when I set this programme up, is that a lot of the younger sailors are overseas with their mentors,” Armstrong said. “It’s created a relationship with someone they can lean on when they are overseas which might have taken longer to establish or might not have happened at all in the past when they were overseas.”
MEDAL MOMENT: Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie celebrate with their gold medals at Weymouth.
It’s proved extremely valuable for Annabelle Rennie-Younger, who earlier this year switched from sailing the ILCA 6 to the mixed 470 because of a troublesome back injury. She’s already enjoyed international success, finishing third with Andre Van Dam at the 470 Junior European Championships.
“I have found the mentor programme really helpful throughout the year,” said Rennie-Younger, who has former Olympic silver medallist Alex Maloney as her mentor. “It made me realise how willing the successful women in our sport are to helping the younger once coming through and the depth of knowledge they have to pass on.
Annabelle Rennie-Younger and Andre Van Dam claimed bronze at the recent 470 Junior European Championships. Photo: Osga Photo.
“At the beginning of the year, I was switching class and it was really helpful to have Alex to talk to throughout the whole process. She was able to honestly tell me the positives and negatives of double-handed sailing and provided a really helpful insight to help me make the best decision for me.”