Rio Olympics 2016: Contentious sailing selection standards prove correct

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke won gold for the 49er class sailing race the 2016 Olympics. Photo / photosport.nz
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke won gold for the 49er class sailing race the 2016 Olympics. Photo / photosport.nz

The cut-throat selection process for New Zealand's Olympic sailing team has been fully justified according to the sport's boss.

Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie says a record-equalling Olympic haul of four medals surpassed expectations.

A medal target was never set but the gold in the men's 49er, silvers for the women's 470 and 49erFX crews and bronze to Laser sailor Sam Meech exceeded privately held hopes the organisation had passed to High Performance Sport New Zealand, Abercrombie said.

There was nearly a fifth medal from the fourth-placed Nacra 17 crew while Abercrombie was delighted that all seven boats qualified for medal races.

The Kiwis finished level with Australia for most medals won on Guanabara Bay while matching the combination of medals at their best previous Games, at Barcelona in 1992.

"We had seven crews who were all medal-capable and all very young," Abercrombie said. "But these successes weren't just the results of great sailors. Behind them was a good programme, coaches and technology."

Another important ingredient was tough selection standards, he said, even if they caused consternation for sailors who missed the cut.

Three classes weren't filled despite racers meeting qualifying criteria.

Laser Radial specialist Sara Winther and RS:X board sailor Natalia Kosinska both unsuccessfully appealed against their omission to the Sports Tribunal.

Men's RS:X hopeful Jon-Paul Tobin had earlier withdrawn from the high performance programme, citing a lack of support and funding. Tobin said it was "illogical" not to field a Kiwi boat in all 10 classes.

Abercrombie made no apology, saying the standards set for the sailors had them race-ready by Rio.

"We had some tough decisions to make and those decisions have been fully justified by the results. I don't think it's ruthless, it's just that we set the bar very high. You can't have everyone rock up to an Olympic Games so we make no excuses."

Ongoing funding of every crew has been related to performance.

Meech says the first two years of his Rio build-up were stressful and came at a financial cost. It was only when results started coming that the pressure eased.

Nevertheless, the rising Laser exponent says he will consider part-time employment between regattas if he pursues another Olympic campaign.

Abercrombie says travel and equipment makes sailing an expensive sport to pursue.

"And the funding pool's not a bottomless pit. But at the top level, if you set a high bar, then it sets an expectation of success. If you set a low bar, it diminishes that."

-NZN

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