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Yachting: Olympic hopefuls' Star turn

Hamish Pepper. Photo / Derek Flynn
Hamish Pepper. Photo / Derek Flynn

A timely granting of citizenship, an opportune run of form and a customised vintage wine mean New Zealand looks set to sail a Star men's keelboat crew at the Olympics.

Three-time Olympian Hamish Pepper and brand new Kiwi Jim Turner are making a late dash to be selected for the London Games.

They have been a partnership for less than six months, with Turner - a British-born yachtsman who is married to a New Zealander and has resided in the country more than eight years - getting his passport just over a fortnight ago.

"I now call him Kiwi Jim," Pepper says. "He's pretty excited to be learning the haka."

Twelve Star spots (including the guaranteed hosting place for Britain) were decided at December's world championships off Perth.

The four remaining spots will be decided at the specific Star world championships off Hyeres, west of Toulon in France, from May 2-12.

There is a confidential agreement between Yachting New Zealand (YNZ) and the Star crew as to what they need to achieve at the world championships for Olympic selection, other than loosely prove they are "medal contenders".

New Zealand already has 12 athletes going to London in seven classes.

"At the very least, we expect a top 10 finish and hopefully top five to show we're in contention to medal," Pepper says.

"I always said I'd never go to the Olympics unless I thought I could do that. I want to continue down those lines. Up to seven countries are in contention for those last four places."

The YNZ chairman of the Star selectors, Andy Knowles, says Pepper and Turner have put together an outstanding campaign given their late formation.

"Hamish has always chosen good people to sail with, particularly in the early stages of his campaigns. This is going the same way so far. He won the world championships with Carl Williams in 2006 and came second with Craig Monk in 2009. Jim appears to be of a similar standard."

Pepper finished ninth in the Star with Carl Williams at the Beijing Olympics and seventh and 10th in the single-handed Laser at Athens and Atlanta respectively.

"We do have a confidentiality agreement but it is mainly designed to protect athletes," Knowles says. "If it was known where a certain crew needed to finish to get the Olympic nod, then other international crews who had already achieved selection could conspire to sail them down the fleet."

Pepper and Turner were second overall going into today's medal race at the World Cup event off Palma, Majorca in the Mediterranean. Six of the top 10 crews at December's world championships in Perth are participating, meaning the New Zealanders have parity with the elite crews in the class.

Pepper and Turner could not enter the December world championships because Turner did not have New Zealand citizenship. It followed a Herald on Sunday report that Pepper and 1992 Olympic Finn bronze medallist Craig Monk had split before the event.

The pair needed to generate $300,000 to fund the campaign in the final months leading up to London, despite finishing second at the 2009 world championships and sixth at a pre-Olympic regatta off Weymouth last year. Monk decided not to proceed.

In contrast, Pepper decided he wanted to fight one last time for his Olympic medal dream. He has even created his own vintage wine to fundraise. The Southern Star Sailing label - including pinot noir and sauvignon blanc - has been bottled at Saint Clair Family Estate in Marlborough with the profits set to go towards the crew's London campaign.

"We still have a mountain to climb but we're doing it gradually. We've put all our other yachting jobs on hold to earn a medal.

"However, Jim's second child is due shortly - we're not allowed to put that on hold," Pepper jokes.

- Herald on Sunday

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