NZ Olympic sailors test alternate flag

Some of New Zealand's Olympic sailors and Rio hopefuls this morning flew the alternative flag design during a training run on Waitemata Harbour, but it wasn't for political or personal reasons.

Four-time world champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke and their training partners Logan Dunning Beck and Jack Simpson, hit the water for routine sail testing today, flying their newly built sails that will be used during the Olympic regatta in August.

Class rules dictate the 49er, 49erFX, men's and women's 470 and the Nacra boats are required to carry their nation's current flag on the spinnaker.

With the 2016 Rio Olympics looming large on the calendar, and the New Zealand flag referendum scheduled in March, members of the sailing team had to pre-order extra sails bearing the alternative flag design to ensure each potential sail they take to Brazil has been tested and used in training.

Yachting New Zealand high performance director Jez Fanstone said the decision to order sails with both sets of flags was not a political statement or case of personal preference, but rather a logistical decision.

"Sail testing is a critical part of any Olympic sailing campaign," said Fanstone.

"We want to be sure that we arrive in Rio being the best prepared we can be."

Testing each new sail for cloth imperfections, design and cut, is always scheduled into the preparation programme and completed during routine training and competition.

"A handful of our sailors had to order their new sails during December and January, at a time when we can't be certain what New Zealand's flag will look like come August 2016," said Fanstone.

"The flag design is applied during the sail build process, so to ensure we are covering all eventualities the only thing to do has been to order two sets of sails. One set has the current flag; the second set has the alternative design."

Cost has been kept to a minimum by ensuring only those campaigns where timing dictates early ordering dates will receive and test the extra set of sails.

"An Olympic sailing campaign requires detailed planning and preparation which extends across boats and equipment, and the timing of the flag referendum is just one of those things that add to the complexity. It's all about doing everything we can to be well prepared, leaving no stone unturned, and arriving into Rio with as few surprises to negotiate as possible," said Fanstone.

The asymmetric shape of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra spinnakers means that each boat's national flag is applied lengthways down the sail with the flag rotated 90 degrees to the right, while in the 470 class the flag appears on the spinnaker sail in its usual orientation.

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