Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Rio Olympics 2016: Team Jolly driven by unfinished business

New Zealand's Polly Powrie, left, and Jo Aleh compete during the 470 women race. Photo / AP
New Zealand's Polly Powrie, left, and Jo Aleh compete during the 470 women race. Photo / AP

You would think standing atop the Olympic podium would be confirmation you've pretty much clocked your sport.

But for women's 470 pairing Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, winning gold in London four years ago wasn't enough.

The duo, collectively known as Team Jolly, felt like they had unfinished business to attend to in Rio this year. Despite having a gold medal on their mantelpiece, there was something about their performance on the waters off Weymouth in 2012 that still niggled away at them heading into this year's Games.

They couldn't quite shake the feeling that they didn't quite nail it; that they won in spite of their performance, rather than because of it.

"After we won, it was like 'Oh, we won, okay - it wasn't that good was it?'" Aleh told the Herald in an interview last year marking one year out from the start of the Rio Olympics.

"That is one of the main drivers for us. We see so many areas we thought we could be better at and until we tick those off we keep going. It was quite clear after London that yes we won, but we hadn't sailed anywhere near a perfect event, there were so many mistakes."

It must be a bitter irony to Aleh and Powrie then that they have sailed the regatta of their lives in Rio thus far, but will head into tomorrow's medal race with gold out of their grasp, with the British crew of Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills holding an unassailable 20 point lead.

Two disqualifications - in race one and six - effectively ended Team Jolly's bid to become the first New Zealand sailors to win back-to-back gold.

That they are still in a position to claim silver shows just how impressive their performances have been on Guanabara Bay.

Aleh and Powrie have won four of the 10 races in the women's 470 class, and would have had another bullet to their name had they not been pinged for a startline violation in race six on Monday. By way of comparison, the all-conquering 49er crew of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke won three of their 12 qualifying races on their way to securing the gold medal with a race to spare.

Even more remarkably, Team Jolly have produced those results under mentally taxing conditions. They continued to fight on after the two massive blows to their campaign, all the while New Zealand sailing officials worked away in the background to try and get the disqualifications against Team Jolly overturned.

In all, rules advisor Jack Lloyd made three trips to the jury room. Each time it would have been difficult for Aleh and Powrie not to get their hopes up, only to be let down again.

Team Jolly have another big fight ahead tomorrow if they are to secure another Olympic medal, with just four points separating second through fifth on the overall standings.

Given the resolve the pair have shown thus far in the regatta, we can expect another spirited showing from them tomorrow. And if they do clinch a podium spot, hopefully this time they can reflect on what went right, rather what went wrong.

They might even come to appreciate that gold medal sitting back at home a little bit more.

- NZ Herald

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