Gold medalists confirm status quo for Rio

GOLDEN GLORY: Olympic gold medallists Polly Powrie, left, and Jo Aleh watch themselves on the big screen in Christchurch yesterday.
GOLDEN GLORY: Olympic gold medallists Polly Powrie, left, and Jo Aleh watch themselves on the big screen in Christchurch yesterday.

Olympic sailing gold medallists Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie have spiked speculation they would switch to the 49er FX class, which will be introduced as a new discipline in the women's regatta in Rio de Janeiro, by confirming they still believed they had unfinished business in 470 dinghy.

"That [the 49er] was a possibility that we could try it, and we did, but it didn't go very well . . . so we thought we had better stick with the 470," Powrie said.

"We are still quite young, some people stick at it for eight to 16 years so we don't feel as if we have mastered it at all."

In addition to their Olympic aspirations, the pair added they want to race the 470 in next year's world championships in France. In this year's world champs in Spain they finished fourth.

When Aleh and Powrie won Olympic gold in the 470 class off Weymouth, England, this year they became the first New Zealand women to win a sailing gold in anything other than windsurfing. Leslie Egnot and Jan Shearer won silver in the women's 470 in 1992.

Following their success, the pair asked each other if they wanted to continue or break up the partnership.Aleh, who became hooked on the sport after watching New Zealand's success at the 1995 America's Cup, was immediately eager to continue after the Olympic success. After some consideration Powrie, who comes from a sailing family, confirmed she was also keen.

Meanwhile, the pair and several companies involved in Christchurch's rebuild have struck an unexpected combination.

Unlike New Zealand's gold medal rowers, who were gifted new Audis, and kayaker Lisa Carrington, paralympic swimmer Sophie Pascoe and BMX racer Sarah Walker, who signed deals with Beef + Lamb New Zealand, yachties Aleh and Powrie returned to New Zealand to little more than hearty back-slaps and good wishes.

It took a chance meeting with Canterbury businessmen Paul Lloyd and Craig Waghorn, of Apollo Projects Group, at a corporate speaking function to land them some dollars.

Aleh and Powrie's home town of Auckland may be titled the City of Sails, yet none of the sponsorship money that was tucked into the other Olympians' pockets was flung their way.

Why? Aleh and Powrie, New Zealand yachting's only gold medallists following their success in the 470 class at Weymouth, struggled to answer that one.

It was surprising they had no luck in attracting interest in Auckland, the country's economic powerhouse.

"We did look around but sports sponsorship is a difficult one," Powrie said. "We were looking for a New Zealand company to sponsor us because that is where we spend most of our time. But we just couldn't find an Auckland company that could help us."

When Lloyd learned Aleh and Powrie hadn't secured sponsorship, his response was immediate: "I almost fell off my chair.

"They said that they just don't like asking for money and maybe that is also because they are just low-key Kiwis," Lloyd said. "But it was still a surprise, given what they had achieved."

Several other companies involved in the rebuild have recently backed sports events.

Calder Stewart is the naming sponsor of the national elite cycling road championships to be held in Christchurch next month and John Jones Steel backed the recent Harewood Open which was part of the Charles Tour.

Lloyd confirmed Apollo as a major backer of the yachties until the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Press