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49er Europeans: McHardie, McKenzie Win Medal Race In Final Olympic Rehearsal

Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie have completed a key part of their Olympic preparation on a high, by winning the medal race of the 49er European championships at La Grande Motte International Regatta against some of the best skiff sailors in the world.

It was ultimately not enough for the Kiwi crew to retain the bronze medal they won in Vilamoura in November last year, as they fell two points short of the podium places in their final international event before making their Games debut in late July.

Despite taking out the double-points final race, McHardie and McKenzie couldn't overhaul Sebastien Schneiter and Arno de Planta on the leaderboard. The Swiss teammates finished third, with Britain's James Peters and Fynn Sterritt taking silver and Hernan Umpierre and Fernando Diz of Uruguay taking the gold.

"We had a few points we could close ahead of us, so the goal was to try and put a little bit of hurt on the Swiss and hopefully end up with three boats between us and them. That would put us in medal contention," said McHardie.

"I thought we did a really good job of that. Winning the medal race was all we could do, and we almost got the three boats between us."

If they had to settle for fourth, they'd much rather do it here than in just under three months in Marseille.

"It was unfortunate to just miss out on the medal, but we made a few errors. The black flag [disqualification on the final day of gold fleet racing] really hurt us," said McHardie.

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"We talked to the race committee, and apparently, we were 20 to 30 centimetres over the line, so it was very close. All in all, this was a good step towards what we want to achieve in the Olympics."

The result is a boost for the Kiwis who finished outside the top 10 at the world championships and the French Olympic Week earlier this year - after establishing themselves as one of the leading 49er crews on the planet in 2023.

According to McHardie, they've been working hard on being more competitive in the big breeze.

"The last few regattas have been tough for us in the windier stuff, but it's also been really good to sign off on those conditions and close the gap," he said.

"We've been trying to get the boat going a little bit quicker in the breeze and changing our rig setup a bit, and we've made some really good gains."

They will spend several weeks at a training camp in Marseille, preparing for the quadrennial showpiece.

"This was the last big regatta for us before the Olympics, and it was good to focus on the starting and the technical side of the racing. We've got a few training regattas in Marseille, but this will be the last chance we get to race in a solid fleet before then.

"We're looking forward to getting used to the venue up there and building to the start of the Olympics."

Meanwhile, rising Kiwi 49er crew Campbell Stanton and Will Shapland continued their impressive run of international performances in 2024 by securing a gold fleet place in the Mediterranean.

Stanton and Shapland were 25th in the 70-boat fleet, with Seb Menzies and George Lee Rush 29th, Mattias Coutts and Henry Haslett 34th, and Francesco Kayrouz and Hamish McLaren 52nd.

Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson narrowly missed out on their medal race in the Nacra 17 world championships sailed at the same event - finishing 11th overall after a tough last day of finals racing.

Wilkinson and Dawson, who had not missed a medal race for over a year, are part of a nine-strong Olympic sailing team that also features McHardie and McKenzie, Jo Aleh and Molly Meech (49erFX), Tom Saunders (ILCA 7), and Josh Armit and Veerle ten Have (windfoil).

Olympic racing is set to get underway in Marseille on July 28.

Full results from the 49er European championships and Nacra 17 world championships at La Grande Motte are available here.

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