Rio Olympics 2016: 'We didn't realise what a medal meant to NZ' - Burling

New Zealand's Blair Tuke, left, and Peter Burling celebrate after crossing the finish line. Photo / AP
New Zealand's Blair Tuke, left, and Peter Burling celebrate after crossing the finish line. Photo / AP

Never has an Olympic Games silver medal felt so heavy as that carried by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke for the last four years.

The world's most complete Olympic class crew could scratch that itch at last in Rio, wrapping up gold with two races to spare following a comprehensive week on Guanabara Bay.

The brilliant Kiwi pair described it as the highlight of their already accomplished careers.

Burling said that despite their dominance since the London Olympics, they had found it hard to extinguish the memory of finishing runners-up.

"We took the silver medal back to New Zealand and probably didn't realise until then what it meant to the country," he said.

"We had a few months off and from there the desire to give gold a crack was pretty much what drove us. We're super-proud that we've managed to achieve that although I don't think we'll really realise what we've done until we have the medals around our necks."

The brilliant Kiwi pair can relax for two days heading into Friday morning's medal race, having opened up an insurmountable lead of 34 points over second-placed Germans Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel.

They will battle Australian defending champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen for the minor medals.

Holding an 18-point lead at the start of the day, Burling and Tuke placed third, fifth and fourth overnight. They finished no worse than seventh throughout the 12 qualifying races.

The pair plan to enjoy the company of friends and family and reflect on four years of sacrifice. Travelling relentlessly, they won every major regatta entered, mixing it with their Team New Zealand America's Cup commitments.

Burling said just about everything has clicked since the pair arrived in Rio and although conditions early in the regatta were fickle, they had prepared well enough to deal with it.

"We've put down a performance we knew we were capable of, it was exactly what we wanted to do," he said.

"We were super-happy with how we started off. From there we were able to chip away and deal with whatever was thrown at us."

The biggest drama came yesterday morning when they capsized twice in roaring wind and waves as they were being towed back ashore following the day's racing.

Burling said they spent several hours that night repairing damage to a halyard line and their jib sail but their performance was unaffected.

Outteridge said Burling and Tuke have set new standards in Olympic class sailing.

"They're deserved winners so hats off to them. What they've done over the last four years hasn't been done before. I don't think anyone's gone through a[n Olympic] cycle winning every event bar one."

The trans-Tasman rivalry will resume at next year's America's Cup in Bermuda. Burling and Tuke are crewmen aboard Team New Zealand while Outteridge and Jensen are aligned with Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing.

Burling and Tuke are the New Zealand team's co-captains in Rio. It is the fourth time athletes with that role have gone on to win gold at the same Games. The others were middle distance runners Jack Lovelock (1936) and Peter Snell (1964), and canoeist Ian Ferguson (1988).

-NZN

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