Yachting: Young Kiwi sailor Burling not fazed by Perth challenge

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke sail their 49er as they for London Olympic qualifers. Photo / John Borren
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke sail their 49er as they for London Olympic qualifers. Photo / John Borren

New Zealand sailor Peter Burling was only 17 when he represented his country at the Beijing Olympics so it's not surprising the qualifying regatta for London starting this weekend holds few fears for him.

Now aged 20 and a fulltime professional, he will compete in the 49er class with Blair Tuke at the ISAF sailing world championships in Perth and many older competitors would do well to take advice from the level-headed Burling.

He became New Zealand's youngest yachting representative in Beijing three years ago when he competed in the 470 class and, although the results didn't go his way then, some valuable lessons did.

"It's almost just another event," he said. "Everyone almost builds it up too much and gets worried about the little things and don't race like they normally would. Make sure you've got everything sorted so you can race like you normally would and just give it your all."

Burling, named New Zealand's young sailor of the year for 2011, and 22-year-old Tuke will attempt to qualify their class in Perth and, although there is some pressure to do so, the pair take plenty of good form into the regatta.

In August they won bronze at the Olympic test event in Weymouth, the site of the 2012 Olympic regatta, and are comfortable with the expectations. "We've had a pretty good build-up," Burling said. "The main goal of the event is to qualify the nation [in the class] and to look at results after that. But we are going there relatively confident, hopefully we can get on the podium."

Burling is now based in Auckland but his roots are in Bay of Plenty - you can see the stricken Rena from his family's dining room window. He learned to sail at the Tauranga Yacht Club with older brother Scott and carried on the love of the sport when combining racing 49ers with Tuke and studying mechanical engineering fulltime at Auckland University. Tuke, from Kerikeri, was immersed in an electrical apprenticeship at the time.

Burling's love for the small two-handed boats is obvious. Several years ago he raced a 49er in the Coastal Classic from Devonport to Russell in the Bay of Islands and gave a nice line in understatement when describing the experience: "Nine hours in a trapeze harness isn't the best for your body."

Burling's aim next year is a lofty one. "Definitely the goal is to get on the top step of the podium [at the Olympics]. It's definitely nice to have been there before and to have seen the whole environment. Now you don't get quite as overwhelmed by the whole thing."

New Zealand is represented by 45 sailors in Perth, including two other teams in the 49er class.

The sailing world championships feature all 10 Olympic classes and sailors from more than 80 nations. Over 1200 sailors will take part, making it one of the largest sporting events held in Western Australia. It runs from Saturday, when the women's match racing crew of Jenna Hansen, Susannah Pyatt and Stephanie Hazard begin their competition, until December 18.

New Zealand competitors: Women's 470 (two teams): Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie, Vicki Francis and Erica Dawson; Mens 470 (five teams): Jason Saunders and Paul Snow-Hansen, James Turner and Mathew Jones, Mike Snow-Hansen and Derek Snow, Gareth Moore and Ben Goodwin, Luke Stevenson and Sam Bullock; Men's RS:X (four sailors): Tom Ashley, JP Tobin, Antonio Cozzolino, Carl Evans; Women's RS:X (three sailors): Natalia Kosinka, Steff Williams, Justina Sellers; Finn (five sailors): Dan Slater, Matt Coutts, Rob Coutts, Brad Douglas, Nick Burfoot; Laser Standard (six sailors): Andrew Murdoch, Sam Meech, Mike Bullot, Josh Junior, Andrew Maloney, Tom Saunders; Laser Radial (three sailors): Sara Winther, Rachel Basevi, Miranda Powrie; 49er (three teams): Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski, Chris Burgess and Rowan Swanson; Women's Match Racing (one team): Jenna Hansen, Susannah Pyatt, Stephanie Hazard.

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