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Pilkington to make Olympic debut in laser

Updated: Jun 7

Greta Pilkington is set to become the first New Zealand sailor to compete in the women's single-handed discipline for over 10 years PHOTO: THE NZTEAM

Greta Pilkington is set to become the first New Zealand sailor to compete in the women's single-handed discipline at the Olympic Games in over a decade, when she lines up in Marseille in early August.

The Auckland sailor is named to the New Zealand Team and will make her Games debut in the ILCA 6 class, previously known as the Laser Radial.


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The 21-year-old is the 10th member of the sailing team to be confirmed for the Olympics.

She joins Tom Saunders (ILCA 7), Jo Aleh and Molly Meech (49erFX), Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie (49er), Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson (Nacra 17), Veerle ten Have (women's windfoil) and Josh Armit (men's windfoil).

"It's a dream come true to be going to the Olympics. One of my most precious memories is having my picture taken with Molly shortly after she won her silver medal at the Rio Olympics [with Alex Maloney in 2016]. I was only 13 at the time and now going to the Olympics alongside her and many other sailors I admire is an incredible feeling," said Pilkington.

Speaking at her home club, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Pilkington said she was honoured to represent her country in the ILCA 6 for the first time since Sara Winther finished 20th at the 2012 London Games.

"The ILCA 6 is such a competitive class and is one of the most physically demanding in sailing. To be able to firstly qualify New Zealand and then to be selected is very special and knowing I'll be the first since Sara makes it even more special."

Aleh is the only other Kiwi to have sailed in the class at the Olympic Games, finishing seventh in Beijing in 2008.

Pilkington has posted a range of impressive results recently, including a sixth place finish at Sail Sydney in December - a few weeks after finishing her three-year Bachelor of Architecture degree at Auckland University of Technology.

"I decided some time ago that I wanted to campaign for the Olympics and study full-time at the same pace. Naturally, I had to compromise a bit on both sides, but it worked out in the end!"

She demonstrated her capabilities by qualifying for the gold fleet and eventually finishing 16th in a 70-boat fleet at the French Olympic Week regatta in Hyeres in April.

"It's been a long road to get to this point, but being able to wear the fern on my chest and represent New Zealand on the biggest stage makes it all worthwhile."

The oldest of four children, Pilkington "basically grew up on boats" and had her first sail on the family yacht at the age of 6 weeks.

"My parents [Guy and Jane] are both keen sailors and I fell in love with the sport pretty much straight away. My earliest sailing memory is of racing my cousin in the sailing dinghy my grandad built for my mum when I was about 5 or 6," she says.

She has enjoyed an impressive rise in the ILCA 6 since first jumping in the boat in 2020 - winning the national title at the age of 18 in 2022, and Oceanbridge Sail Auckland, New Zealand's pre-eminent regatta for Olympic classes, in 2023 and 2024.

Pilkington is most looking forward to testing herself against the best ILCA 6 sailors in the world - some almost twice her age.

"I remember racing against [Dutch triple Olympic medallist and multiple world champion] Marit Bouwmeester for the first time when I was 17," she says.

"I wanted to try and win the pin and managed to do it with Marit above me, rounding the top mark in fifth. I had never been more excited, and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever and that I wanted to keep sailing against her."

The wealth of knowledge and coaching expertise available in the class in New Zealand has been a big advantage, Pilkington says.

She is coached by experienced Olympic coach Mark Howard, with triple Olympian and 2000 gold medallist Jenny Armstrong overseeing Yachting New Zealand's ILCA 6 programme.

"There are so many great coaches and other people who have helped me along the way, and I hope I can make them, and the rest of the country, proud in France."

New Zealand has a proud Olympic sailing legacy, having collected 23 medals since the first won by Peter Mander and Jack Cropp at Melbourne in 1956.

Sailing at Paris 2024 is due to get underway in Marseille on July 28th and conclude on August 8th.


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