Olympics: NZ Sailing on the right tack

By Michael Brown

The success of Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie highlight what has been a highly successful Olympic sailing campaign for New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell NZ Herald
The success of Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie highlight what has been a highly successful Olympic sailing campaign for New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell NZ Herald

The New Zealand sailing team have had the most successful Olympics since 1992 with two medals, including one gold, but it's hard to escape the feeling it could have been even better.

Perhaps it's being greedy. After all, this country collected one gold in Beijing, nothing in Athens and two bronze in Sydney.

Olympic hardware has been hard to come by, even for a sailing nation like New Zealand, and only 18 have been won in Olympic history.

This Olympic regatta ended on a high note with the gold collected by Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie in the women's 470 this morning (NZT) but seven of the nine New Zealand crews at these Games finished inside the top seven and three were fifth.

There would be few sports outside rowing that would be able to point to such tremendous consistency.

But, as Yachting New Zealand high performance manager Jez Fanstone has said, the sport is all about winning medals and it would have looked that much better if a couple more had stepped onto the podium.

There was enough quality in the side to achieve that, with the likes of Andrew Murdoch (fifth), Hamish Pepper and Jim Turner (fifth), JP Tobin (seventh) and youngsters Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders (fifth), and the majority of crews were genuine medal contenders heading into the Olympics.

Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie clearly knew it when he said before the Olympics he would be disappointed if sailing didn't win two medals.

That target has been met but they might not get such a good chance for a while. The conditions in Weymouth suited the Kiwi sailors because they are similar to New Zealand and many have enjoyed success there before.

It was completely different at the sailing venue for the Beijing Olympics, which featured largely light airs, and the expectation is Rio will offer something similar in 2016.

Light airs don't naturally suit New Zealand sailors, and even 49er silver medallists Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are wondering where they might fit into the Olympic programme in four years' time given their 'heavy' frames.

Yachting received $11.3 million of funding from High Performance Sport New Zealand over the last four-year cycle, putting them behind only rowing ($19.2 million) and cycling ($18.3 million) as the best funded sport.

Yachting bosses are presently working on their next four and eight-year plans with Olympic medals high on their agenda.

"Two medals is a great return, for sure,'' Fanstone said. "These guys have been performing consistently well over a couple of years. It's a young team and for some the beginning of the Olympic journey.

"If we can roll into the next Olympic cycle with these guys, there should be some success to come.''

There are clearly a handful of talented sailors coming through, with Burling and Tuke and Aleh and Powrie at the top of the pile.

The 21-year-old Burling, in particular, has been tagged as a sailor with considerable potential and Saunders and Snow-Hansen, also both 21, have made good progress over the last 18 months.

There are also a number of up-and-comers like Andy Maloney, Tom Saunders, Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski on the verge of Olympic standard ready to put pressure on some of the older hands if they commit to another Olympic campaign.

The programme will change slightly in Rio, with a multihull and women's skiff being added at the expense of the Star and women's match racing. Kiteboarding is also expected to feature instead of windsurfing and a final decision on that will be made later in the year.

New Zealand results:
Women's 470 - first
49er - second
Men's 470 - fifth
Laser - fifth
Star - fifth
RS:X - seventh
Finn - seventh
Women's match racing - ninth
Laser Radial - 20th

- NZ Herald

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