When sailing coach Nathan Handley popped back to New Zealand in June he was asked how he rated his 470 women's pair Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie's Olympic prospects.

Aleh and Powrie had won the Sail for Gold regatta on the Olympic venue at Weymouth for the second consecutive year, they had finished fourth in the world champs in Barcelona a month earlier and five years ago won the world 420 crown.

This told several things: they were in strong form; they had a clear liking for the Olympic venue, having come to know its intricacies well; and they knew the feeling of scaling the sailing heights.

It had been 28 years since a New Zealand crew had won an Olympic title, other than standing up on a board. That was Russell Coutts in the Finn at Los Angeles.


New Zealand Olympic sailing hadn't been that flash for some time. So when the question was popped to Handley he was cautious, but the sub-text was clear. "There's a lot of work to do and sailing's a funny old game. You need a few things to go your way. But they're in a pretty good head space. They're certainly not over-confident, but we're definitely in the ball park, that's for sure."

And so it proved. Going into the medal race, Aleh and Powrie were equal on points with British sailors Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark. Both had won two of the 10 fleet races. The Dutch pair were third some way back. A minimum of silver was assured.

In the event, Aleh, at 26 two years the older, and Powrie made no race of it, romping away to win, while Mills and Clark had a 'mare, finishing ninth out of the 10 crews.

"I was thinking about it last night and I thought silver was going to be a big deal," Aleh said after receiving her medal. "I don't think a New Zealand woman has ever won a gold medal in a sit-down boat and I'm sitting down and we have got one now."

Sporting achievement of the Year Finalists:
Valerie Adams
Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic
More to be named throughout the week