Games hero Blair Tuke stood out from early age, says mate

By Mikaela Collins

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Captain Jeff Clark, who was about 18 at the time, with then 13-year-old Blair Tuke during the 2003 Schools Team Racing National Championships.
Captain Jeff Clark, who was about 18 at the time, with then 13-year-old Blair Tuke during the 2003 Schools Team Racing National Championships.

A former Northland man who first sailed with Blair Tuke in 2003 is not surprised by the sailor's Olympic success, saying the then 12-year-old was an eager and quick learner.

Blair Tuke and Peter Burling secured gold in the men's 49er class yesterday with two races to spare.

Jeff Clark, who is from Kerikeri but now works as an automotive technician in Auckland, first sailed with Tuke in 2003 in a school sailing team. Clark was in his last year of high school and Tuke was about 13 and in second form (Year 8).

"He was my crew, he was just a young kid. I knew him before sailing anyway ... he was real eager and keen and into it," he said.

The oldest photo the Northern Advocate has of Tuke is during the 2003 Schools Teams Racing National Championships.

Mr Clark remembers Tuke being particularly keen and was not surprised by his gold-medal success.

"He picked things up really quickly, he hadn't been doing it for that long and he was as good, if not better, than any of the other crews and he would've been doing it for less time. It wasn't a struggle to teach him things. I didn't look at him at the time and think he would win a gold medal but there was no reason why he couldn't."

He said 2003 was the only year he sailed with Tuke at school as Mr Clark left school the next year. He said they teamed up together to sail in a few more regattas after school.

Mr Clark said he was proud of his mate and was happy to see him go a step further in Rio after winning silver at the London Olympics in 2012.

"I was proud. Not only because I had sailed with him but I knew him personally ... he was a good family friend. I was just proud he could carry on from where he started and now he's best in the world."

Mr Clark said he doesn't sail so much anymore.

He has been an automotive technician since he returned from overseas in 2007. He lived in Spain for about three years and worked for Team Oracle during the 2007 America's Cup as sailing team support and on the weather team.

Mr Clark said he hadn't been in touch with Tuke during the Olympics but said he saw him six weeks before the Games.

"He was happy, generally he is a happy guy but down to earth and not cocky or arrogant.

He's still the same old Blair. I just said the normal thing anybody else would say 'good luck'."

- Northern Advocate

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