New Zealand golden in 470 sailing

FRED WOODCOCK IN WEYMOUTH
Last updated 04:49 11/08/2012
Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie
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GOLD MEDALISTS: New Zealand's 470 sailors Olivia Powrie (left) and Jo Aleh.
Polly Powrie gallery
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A triumphant Polly Powrie is carried ashore by team-mates after she and Jo Aleh claimed gold in the women's 470 sailing.

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Gold medallists Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie had been so focused on treating the Olympic sailing regatta like any other they were struggling to comprehend just what played out on the waters of Weymouth today.

Team Jolly, as they have dubbed themselves, sailed their way into the history books on a stunning Dorset day, hammering the British to win gold in the women's 470 class.

In winning New Zealand's fourth gold medal of the London Games, the two Aucklanders became the first Kiwi sailors other than windsurfers to win Olympic gold since 1984, when Russell Coutts (Finn) and Rex Sellers and Chris Timms (Tornado) both triumphed off Long Beach, California.

They also became the first New Zealand women to win Olympic sailing gold in a dinghy. Barbara Kendall, of course, won on a board in 1992.

Aleh, 26, and Powrie, 24, navigated their vessel - which they dubbed 'Muppet', that classic Kiwi term - superbly around the four courses in use here in southern England this week and today was no different, even with so much on the line.

As thousands of spectators lined the Nothe to cheer on Brits Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, the Kiwis held their nerve and out-witted the current world champions, who fell apart.

"Yachting's been struggling a bit back home so it's awesome to win the gold," Aleh said.

"It's going to take a few days to sink in. We've tried to treat this like any other regatta, because it's a lot easier to separate ourselves from all the pressure and the hype, and it still seems like just another regatta so far," she laughed.

"I don't know how to switch it off. I'm having a few issues with that, but I'm sure it will sink in."

Powrie had the same sentiments. "It still hasn't sunk in yet, I think once we catch up with all our family it might."

Powrie couldn't quite recall their immediate reaction when they crossed the line, but thought there might have been a few triumphant swear words.

Aleh added: "It was just like 'I think we did it. I can't believe we did it'. And then we saw the 'Go Kiwi' banners (on the Nothe spectator area), that was pretty impressive."

Aleh was level with Mills heading into the double-point medal race, meaning the crew that crossed the finish before the other one would win gold.

The Brits had less experience in match racing scenarios and it showed. They had a brilliant start in 5-6 knots but when Aleh immediately tacked away, Mills inexplicably decided not to follow her, forcing huge separation up the first beat.

New Zealand got best side of the course and by the first mark the gold had essentially been decided.

"I was surprised when we first cleared, but I think they were a bit stuck," Aleh said of the Brits' decision to separate.

"They would have had to dip a few boats to come back to us. I don't know what they were thinking but I guess they were hoping their side would pay, but we thought where we were was good.

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"As we started going out a lot of the fleet started to tack with us, and we knew we had a great lane. We just had to go fast and keep it simple and hope it worked out, because you never really know."

The wind then dropped to around 2 knots, making it tougher for the Brits to gain, and by the second mark they were gone.

On a day when everything went New Zealand's way, officials then decided to shorten the course due to lack of wind, another nail in the British coffin.

New Zealand won the race, and Britain finished ninth as they settled for silver.

Aleh started sailing after being inspired by Team New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup win, while Powrie comes from a sailing family.

They teamed up to win the 420 world championships in 2007 but Aleh focused on the single-handed Laser Radial ahead of the Beijing Olympics, where she finished seventh.

They reunited again after Beijing, moving into the 470 class with great success, with a second, third and fourth at the past three world championships.

But their goal was always the Olympics and, on that score, they timed their run perfectly.

- Fairfax Media

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