Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Five NZ crews announced for Rio

Two medal-winning crews from the London Olympics headline first batch of New Zealand sailors named for Rio today.

Olympic champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie will return to defend their 470 crown at the August Games, while four-time 49er world champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who have not been beaten since claiming silver in Weymouth, were another feature of the announcement.

The pair were among five crews Yachting New Zealand announced today - all in the double-handed classes.

Alex Maloney and Molly Meech will represent New Zealand in the women's skiff event which makes its Olympic debut in 2016, as does the mixed gender multihull Nacra 17 where Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders will compete. Paul Snow-Hansen and Daniel Willcox will race in the men's 470.

New Zealand has qualified a berth in all 10 Olympic classes, with the remainder of the team to be named in May following key selection regattas in Europe.

Yachting New Zealand's high performance director Jez Fanstone said the crews named today had worked hard over the past three seasons to ensure the decision for the selectors was a straight-forward one.

"They've had to prove that they are capable of performing to a high level on the world stage and doing so consistently, that's why it's so exciting being here today because those 10 people have done that, and I know they will continue to work hard over the next five months going into Rio," said Fanstone.

Fanstone said all the sailors will head to Rio at least twice before the Olympic regatta in August to familiarise themselves with conditions and ensure they are comfortable with the venue.

Burling, who will be attending his third Olympics after making his debut at just 17 years-old in Beijing, said it is still a special feeling being named in an Olympic team.

"You don't get too many chances to go to an Olympics in a lifetime, so it is always a massive privilege to be named," he said.

"We've got a really clear goal and that is to win gold in Rio. I think getting this [team naming] out of the way early gives us a lot of motivation and really helps us out to keep training and improving to make sure we reach that goal."

For first-time Olympians Maloney and Meech, the confirmation they are heading to Rio was "an amazing feeling".

"It's a great feeling to have this milestone ticked off, and we're just really looking forward to the next six months," said Maloney.

The single-handed classes are less clear-cut for the selectors, with a dog-fight brewing in both the Finn and Laser fleets for the one spot. Josh Junior and Andrew Murdoch are locked in a fascinating battle for the Finn spot, while in the Laser class Andy Maloney and Sam Meech, whose respective siblings have paired up in the 49erFX class, are going head-to-head.

As it currently stands, Yachting New Zealand are unlikely to send representatives in the boardsailing and Laser Radial classes.

London Olympian JP Tobin has quit his campaign for Rio, citing a lack of support from Yachting New Zealand, while in the women's RS:X Natalia Kosinska will need to produce some outstanding results over the next couple of months to convince selectors she is capable of pushing for a podium spot in Rio. Sara Winther faces a similar challenge in the Laser Radial.

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