Rio Olympic: Burling, Tuke lead sailing's shot at gold in Rio

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke's selection in the New Zealand Olympic team for Rio was about as straight forward a decision as they come.

The reality was the Kiwi 49er pair, who have not been beaten since claiming silver at the London Olympics, had inked their names in long ago, with the selectors able to look at any number of top-quality performances to be assured the four-time world champions would be a safe bet for Rio.

It's hard to recall a time New Zealand crew have headed to an Olympic regatta carrying such overwhelming favourites status as Burling and Tuke. That favouritism might bring a burden of expectation, but not for the 49er pairing.

"We don't mind that pressure, we've said all along we want to be in this position coming into the Olympics, rather than trying to chase. If we think back 3-years we didn't think we'd have amassed this type of winning streak, but it doesn't really affect us. It's still about trying to get better and do the small things well," said Tuke.

Burling and Tuke were among five double-handed crews confirmed in the sailing team for the August Games yesterday, with reigning Olympic 470 champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie the other headline acts.

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.

Yachting New Zealand's high performance director Jez Fanstone said the first batch of sailors named yesterday had worked hard over the past three seasons to ensure the decision for the selectors was straight-forward.

"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.

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.

Five double-handed crews named in the opening Olympic sailing selections. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Five double-handed crews named in the opening Olympic sailing selections. Photo / Brett Phibbs

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.

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. In the Laser class, Andy Maloney and Sam Meech, whose respective siblings have paired up in the 49erFX class, are going head-to-head.

"Both the Laser boys and the Finn boys have worked as training partners these last few years. They've grown together and learned the class and they're able to medal at major championships together, so it's great from the programme's point of view but tricky for the selectors," said Fanstone.

As it stands, Yachting New Zealand are unlikely to send representatives in the boardsailing and Laser Radial classes, making it one of the smallest teams they have sent to an Olympics in years.

London Olympian JP Tobin has quit his campaign for Rio, citing a lack of support from Yachting NZ.

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.

Sailing crews

Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie - Women's 470

Reigning Olympic champions in the 470 class, Aleh and Powrie have claimed a podium finish at every major regatta since London. They claimed silver at this year's world championships in Argentina.

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke - 49er

Silver medallists in London, Burling and Tuke have not been beaten since, racking up 24 straight regatta victories, including four world titles. Burling and Tuke are members of Team New Zealand.

Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech - 49erFX

Maloney and Meech will make their Olympic debut in Rio in a class that is also new to the Olympic programme. The pair claimed the 2013 world title in the event.

Paul Snow-Hansen and Daniel Willcox - men's 470

This will be Snow-Hansen's second Olympic Games having competed in the London with Jason Saunders as crew, finishing fifth overall. Snow-Hansen and Willcox achieved a career-best finish at this year's world championships, claiming silver in Argentina.

Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders - Nacra 17

Another new event in the Olympic programme, Jones and Saunders have shown steady improvement in mixed multihull class, producing consistent top 10 finishes at major events.

Classes yet to be named:

Laser, Laser Radial, Finn, RS:X (men and women).

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 09 Dec 2016 06:29:55 Processing Time: 467ms