Andrew Alderson

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

Olympics: Tobin vows to rule waves

Jon-Paul Tobin. Photo / Getty Images
Jon-Paul Tobin. Photo / Getty Images

On August 7 boardsailor Jon-Paul Tobin will carry a proud New Zealand legacy for the final time.

Windsurfing will cease as an Olympic sport on that date with the men's medal race off Weymouth on Britain's Dorset coast. It has been one of New Zealand's most successful Games disciplines since its introduction in 1984 (for men) and 1992 (for women).

Kiwi boardsailors have won medals seven times (three gold, one silver and three bronze), missing out only in 2004. Italy comes closest with four medals. Five of New Zealand's seven medals have been claimed by Bruce or Barbara Kendall and a Kiwi has never finished outside the top 10.

To put windsurfing's national sporting value in further context, New Zealand has a total of 16 sailing gongs in Olympic history and hasn't won a keelboat medal in 20 years.

However, world sailing governing body ISAF has decided kiteboarding with its X-Games, television-friendly credentials is a better option for the future, starting in 2016. In November, windsurfing has a slim chance to restate its case at the expense of kiteboarding but it must win an unlikely 75 per cent of the ISAF council vote.

Tobin (35) says the decision has been a shock.

"Kitesurfing is still young in its racing format. Sure, its freestyle format has been around a while and that is what we see on telly. But as far as racing goes they have a lot to achieve in little time as an Olympic sport.

"I see it as completely illogical to throw out a sport like windsurfing. I believe it is the most physical of the sailing disciplines and appeals most to the Olympic motto of higher, faster, stronger. Sailing's thrown away its most athletic discipline. I think it's irresponsible to make such a hasty decision."

Tobin recognises the significance of his Games appearance. Every previous Kiwi rep - the Kendalls, Aaron McIntosh and Tom Ashley - won at least one Olympic medal. In his fifth attempt to qualify for a Games, Tobin has added to that sense of expectation by trumping current Olympic champion Ashley for the one available men's spot.

Tobin has put in place sound plans to deal with those expectations. His overall programme is organised by respected athletics and triathlon coach Chris Pilone, the man behind Hamish Carter's triathlon gold medal at Athens. Veteran boardsailing mentor Grant Beck will come in as Tobin's Olympic regatta support.

Former rival McIntosh advises Tobin on tactics and technique as part of his overall commitment to coach Dutch world champion Dorian van Rijsselberge. Tobin and Canadian representative Zac Plavsic work within that unit.

As one of the Netherlands' top Olympic medal contenders, van Rijsselberge received funds to help with accommodation and living expenses at the Games sailing venue.

As van Rijsselberge's training partner, Tobin stayed with him. He spent around three months gleaning local knowledge at the venue last year and will have completed a similar stint this year by Olympics' end.

So what if Tobin, van Rijsselberge and Plavsic end up racing for gold in the medal race?

"If that's the case, we've done our job," Tobin says diplomatically. "The only way I've found to get ahead in the sport is to compete in training against someone of similar ability. You need others to push you."

When the Herald on Sunday spoke to Tobin he was resting at van Rijsselberge's home on the island of Texel, north of the Netherlands' mainland. It follows a sound Sail for Gold pre-Olympic preparation which the Dutchman won; Tobin was ninth.

"We finished racing last week and are still smashed," Tobin says. "We came into the event fatigued from a heavy block of training, which is what we wanted. We didn't taper to survive at the regatta. We hope that big endurance base can be polished up towards the business end of the campaign."

- Herald on Sunday

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