Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Yachting: Pressure builds on sailors

Andrew Murdoch is the incumbent Laser class Olympian, finishing fifth in Beijing. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Andrew Murdoch is the incumbent Laser class Olympian, finishing fifth in Beijing. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The start of the sailing world championships in Perth coincides with the need for Yachting New Zealand's finest to break what will be a 20-year keel boat drought for Olympic medals next year.

It is an inconvenient truth, often obscured by the success of New Zealand boardsailing. Kiwi boardsailors have medalled seven out of a possible 12 times since the class was introduced to the Olympics (men in 1984, women in 1992).

They have earned three gold, one silver and three bronze, with five of those claimed by Bruce or Barbara Kendall. New Zealand has never finished outside the top 10.

For a country that contributes so much to the sailing world, the lack of medal-winning keelboat results surprises.

Boardsailing cannot shroud the other results much longer, with $10 million (one-sixth of the total Sparc taxpayer investment pool) being invested in YNZ over this Olympic cycle.

That sum reflects yachting's steeper requirements to meet logistical, material and technological demands to compete with the world's best.

By comparison, swimming gets $6.6m, athletics $6.7m, triathlon $6.2m, cycling $15.1m and rowing $15.5m during the same period. However, there is optimism in the YNZ ranks. The Olympic venue of Weymouth off the Dorset coast is conducive to stiffer breezes than the tame climes of Qingdao, China. That means the Kiwis are at least likely to strike more familiar racing conditions to home.

YNZ's performances have at least been consistent in the years since Barcelona in 1992, when they earned a gold, two silvers and a bronze. Only three times in 32 entries during that period have they finished outside the top 16.

With the world championships nigh, New Zealand's sailors have the best chance in years to capitalise on the faith (and investment) placed in them. Sources in the sailing community say three classes in particular have significant medal chances - Jo Aleh and Olivia (Polly) Powrie are performing strongly in the women's 470.

They picked up silver at last year's world championships and won this year's Sail for Gold regatta on the Olympic course; Tom Ashley, the defending Olympic boardsailing champion faces a battle with long-time rival Jon-Paul Tobin for the right to repeat his feat.

Whoever gets the best result at the world championships should get to London; and Andrew Murdoch is the incumbent Laser class Olympian, finishing fifth in Beijing. His second placing at Sail for Gold got him the nod over Mike Bullot, Josh Junior and Andy Maloney to race at the Olympic test event. Murdoch finished fourth but led into the final race.

At the world championships, 75 per cent of London Games places will be earned before athletes are nominated and selected by their respective Olympic committees.

A top-10 finish in most events at the 2011 worlds should be good enough to reach the Olympics. The remaining 25 per cent of places will be secured at world championships for sailing's 10 classes in the first half of next year.

- Herald on Sunday

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