Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Olympics: Sailors set on medal course

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in action.
Photo / John Borren
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in action. Photo / John Borren

Sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are on the verge of breaking New Zealand's 20-year keelboat and dinghy medal drought at the Olympics.

They sit second in the 49er class with five races of 15 to go, including the double-point medal race. It was a rest day overnight. They remain nine points adrift of the world champion Australians, but 15 points clear of third-placed Finland.

The crew has benefited from stiff breezes for the most part off Weymouth, similar to what might be struck in more familiar conditions back home off Auckland's East Coast Bays.

Burling is in his second Olympics despite being just 21 years of age; it's Tuke's Games debut at 23.

The slim keelboat and dinghy medal pickings are often obscured by the success of New Zealand boardsailing. Kiwi boardsailors have won medals seven out of a possible 12 times since the class was introduced to the Olympics (men in 1984, women in 1992).

Boardsailing cannot afford to shroud the need for success in other classes much longer, with $11.3 million (12.9 per cent of the total taxpayer high-performance budget) invested in Yachting New Zealand over this Olympic cycle. To put that in context rowing got $19.2 million (21.9 per cent) and bike $18.3 million (20.8 per cent).

However, that sum reflects yachting's steeper requirements to meet logistical, material and technological demands to compete with the world's best.

YNZ's performances have at least been consistent in the years since 1992, when they earned a gold, two silvers and a bronze. Only three times in 32 entries since then have they finished outside the top 16.

Little looks set to change. Of the nine Kiwi crews in action only Sara Winther (21st) in the Laser Radial was outside the top nine before racing overnight. Men's 470 sailors Jason Saunders and Paul Snow-Hansen are also sailing consistently. They sit eighth overall but should move into medal contention once they can discard their first day disqualification.

Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie got their women's 470 campaign off to a solid start with a sixth and a second to lie second overall.

One of the more fascinating battles is set for the Finn class medal race tomorrow. British favourite Ben Ainslie lies second, two points behind Dane Jonas Hogh-Christensen. Ainslie has a silver and three gold medals from the last four Olympics, including two Finn golds. New Zealand's Dan Slater was ninth.

Amongst the other New Zealanders JP Tobin is fifth equal in the men's boardsailing with five races to go; Laser sailor Andrew Murdoch is ninth with three races left. The men's Star are eighth with the medal race to go after a lay day. The women's Elliott were also eighth. They had one round-robin race left against Russia.

- Herald on Sunday

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