“I grew up on a boat cruising the South Pacific with my family. It was an awesome lifestyle, and I grew to love the ocean and nature.” – Alex Maloney
“I also learnt a certain level of respect for the ocean and the power it has over you, when stuck in a few gnarly storms. When we moved back to land, we made NZ our home. I started sailing the junior classes and began to love competitive sailing and then the opportunities that came with it. I’ve made some of my best friends through the sport and had some amazing experiences.
When Molly and I heard that there was a Women’s Skiff for the 2016 Olympics we teamed up. I love the 49erFX, and skiff racing is awesome. Also, sailing with Molly is the best.
We had a great first few years on the circuit and we are determined to keep with the front of the fleet. We want to bring Women’s skiff sailing to a whole new level.”
Sailing is a sport Alex Maloney and Molly Meech were born into. Molly was just three-years-old when her parents took to the seas with her and her brother. After seven years cruising around the world they settled back in New Zealand. Alex was seven when her parents packed up their belongings and three children and left their home in California to come to New Zealand to buy a yacht. That was in 1999 and the Maloney family sailed around the South Pacific for three years before putting down roots in New Zealand.
When the girls’ two older brothers started sailing competitively in the same class the families became firm friends. Meanwhile, the girls became reluctant sailors.
“I was 11 or 12 when I started sailing but I didn’t really like it,” says Molly.
“I didn’t like getting wet” says Alex, who was equally unenthusiastic.
“When you’re younger it’s not always that much fun being out on the water on a cold, windy day when your mates are hanging out doing other stuff,” she says.
As their technical skills improved however and they started winning races, both girls learned to love the sport. They were friends not rivals growing up and competed in different classes. Maloney enjoyed success in the 420 class winning a world title in 2009 with Bianca Barbarich-Bacher.
When it was announced that a women’s double-handed skiff or 49erFX, would be included in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Maloney convinced Meech they would make a winning combination. Her hunch was proved right when they won the first women’s 49erFX regatta in Melbourne at the end of 2012.
Alex, a smiley, bubbly 28-year-old, helms the boat; she steers and calls the shots. Molly is a year younger and is the crew. She mans the sails and is responsible for maintaining the boat’s speed and momentum.
“My friends think we just sit there and pull ropes but racing is so intense,” says Molly.
“Every decision counts. It’s all about timing the manoeuvres and communicating with each other.
“You have to anticipate what the other is doing”, continues Alex.
“On the good days it’s like we’re telepathic but good communication is crucial. Any mistake can lose you as many as ten places in the field. That’s how close and competitive the class is now.
“It comes down to feeling and how you’re tracking against the other boats”, says Molly.
“If it feels good, the boat is generally going fast. If it doesn’t feel good, you know something is not right with the boat or with your setup.”
The pair won the first 49erFX world championship in 2013 and were ranked number one in the world. In 2014 they had some notable results including second at the first test event for the Rio Olympics.
The pair qualified New Zealand in the 49erFX boat for the 2016 Rio Olympics at the World Championships in Spain in September, 2014. However, it was a bittersweet event as they finished 12th, a disappointing result after targeting a podium finish. They bounced back with a win at the ISAF World Cup Final in Abu Dhabi and second in the wonderfully named Intergalactic Championship in Rio.
Qualifying the boat for Rio was one thing but they needed some strong performances in 2015 to rubberstamp their selection by the New Zealand Olympic Committee.
“You have to show podium potential in the events leading up to selection” explains Alex.
“We podiumed at two World Cup events in 2015 (in Miami and Weymouth) and finished 4th at the test event in Rio.”
They followed that up with another win in Miami at the start of 2016 and they were one of five New Zealand crews confirmed for Rio in March.
“The Rio Olympics had been our focus since we started sailing together in 2012,” says Molly, “so it was a relief to tick that box.”
“I think we’ve shown we have the potential to medal,” says Alex.
“We just need to work on a few things to be more consistent. We’ve been working on our speed in light winds, our starts and our communication. We feel we’ve improved significantly in all three areas but there’s still room for improvement.”