Andrew Alderson

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

Olympics: Emphatic success owes much to Kiwi windsurfer

Dutch boardsailor Dorian van Rijsselberge. Photo / AP
Dutch boardsailor Dorian van Rijsselberge. Photo / AP

When New Zealand's top coaches don their penguin suits for the 2012 Halberg Awards, expect one name to be discreetly overlooked - former Olympic windsurfing bronze medallist Aaron McIntosh, even though he coached an athlete to a gold medal in London.

Dutch boardsailor Dorian van Rijsselberge won one of the most emphatic golds - winning seven races (including the double point medal race), securing two seconds and a third. His discard result was a "did not finish" in race 10. McIntosh is his coach; he also coached seventh-placed New Zealander JP Tobin and the eighth-placed Canadian Zac Plavsic, van Rijsselberge's training partners.

McIntosh's experience in the class included an Olympic fourth in Atlanta and a third in Sydney. His career produced almighty duels with friend, rival and fellow Bucklands Beach Yacht Club member Bruce Kendall for the sole Games spot.

Under McIntosh, van Rijsselberge won last year's world championships and the pre-Olympic Sail for Gold regatta at Weymouth.

"We looked at how he could improve on his world championship performance," McIntosh said. "How could he attack better, improve his fitness and best analyse the wind?

"It was about finding a 1 or 2 per cent difference." McIntosh, hired by the Dutch sailing federation, had van Rijsselberge as his first priority and immersed himself in van Rijsselberge's normal surrounds. The 23-year-old lives a 15-minute ferry ride away from the Dutch mainland on the island of Texel.

"I spent a month there in 2010 getting to know Dorian's family and understanding him as an athlete on a 9-to-5 basis. One of the highlights was the food. I'd say he ate 95 per cent organic or free range, which minimised the toxins in his system; Dorian's Mum cooked him a good, clean diet."

That view was verified by Tobin when he stayed with the Dutchman in June: "His Mum looked after us, that's for sure. It's easy to see why he's such a success; he's so well powered. They're not shy with their cheese and one night we consumed almost half a cow.

" It's quite a farming area so there was plenty of produce."

McIntosh says the relationship with Tobin worked well: "We tried to recruit people who were the best at what they do.

"As training partners Dorian, JP and Zac created an enjoyable, competitive environment. There were ups and downs but they are fired-up individual athletes.

"JP and Dorian had a good friendship all the way through. JP was hard-working, passionate, spirited and fit. As individuals they went at each other hammer-and-tongs while I monitored them from my 6m rig with a 90hp outboard motor."

Speaking before the Games, Tobin indicated the faith McIntosh engenders.

"Aaron knows me better than most. I raced and trained with him from early age. He was instrumental in my development, and we've continued to work together. It's by far the best programme I've had."

McIntosh enjoys planning such campaigns.

"I think I've got a reasonable way with words and an attention to detail. You've got to adjust depending on who you're dealing with so you relate to people in an effective way."

McIntosh is with the Dutch camp until the end of the year, at which point he will reassess. Those hoping he might bolster the New Zealand high performance ranks to bring through another champion like Bruce and Barbara Kendall or Tom Ashley might be disappointed.

"I'd never say never," McIntosh says. "I'll look at my options but Dorian and I have a successful partnership. My advice [to Yachting New Zealand] post-Olympics would be to keep building on their high performance athlete base.

"At this stage kite surfing will be the addition to the sport at the next Games so identify the talent soon. Get as many quality racers in the class initially and then funnel that down over the Olympic cycle."

World sailing governing body ISAF has decided kitesurfing's X-Games, television-friendly credentials are a better option for the future.

In November, windsurfing has a slim chance to restate its case at the expense of kitesurfing but it must win an unlikely 75 per cent of the ISAF council vote.

McIntosh will analyse how best to tackle the new discipline.

"I'm guessing 60 per cent of windsurfers will make the transition. It'll be similar to moving from the Laser to the Finn class [like the most successful Olympic yachtsman Ben Ainslie] or from the 470 to the 49ers [like London silver medallist Peter Burling].

"Dorian and I will look at entering the kitesurfing world championships in October. We'll see how we stand pretty quickly and have some fun."

- Herald on Sunday

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