Jolly good effort reaps sailing gold medal

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 12/08/2012
Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie
Getty Images
GOLD MEDALISTS: New Zealand's 470 sailors Olivia Powrie (left) and Jo Aleh.

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Gold medal winners ‘Team Jolly' are revealed as an inspirational pair who left nothing to chance in their quest for Olympic glory, Fred Woodcock reports.

Not muppets this time Kiwi sailors Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie named their 470 Olympic dinghy Muppet because of some of the silly calls and “dumb stuff” they have done at previous regattas.

The classic Kiwi term seems rather inappropriate now that Muppet has delivered them an Olympic gold medal on the waters of Weymouth. “We wanted to keep things light,” Powrie explains.

“Sailing regattas, you can stuff things up a little bit and we wanted to embrace that a little bit.”

Aleh, the skipper: “We have made some silly calls in the past at certain regattas, doing dumb stuff. When we got this boat for the Olympics we tried to come up with a name and thought Muppet was quite fitting, because we sail like muppets occasionally."

TWO HOURS after crossing the finish line, victorious Kiwi sailor Jo Aleh is meticulously de-rigging Muppet, the 470cm dinghy that she and Polly Powrie have just brilliantly navigated around Weymouth Bay on a path to Olympic glory.

It's the only dinghy left in the boat park; everyone else has been and gone. Aleh is soon joined by her crewmate Powrie, who has been tied up in drug testing. She runs to help her skipper, as if she can't get there quick enough.

There was a cast of 20 team-mates and support crew to carry them and Muppet ashore when they had reached land an hour earlier - chef de mission Dave Currie was there, too, but there wasn't a haka in sight - so surely someone else could do this job? They've just won Olympic gold, after all.

Perhaps this is an example of why they have just become Olympic champions - the attention to detail and commitment to seeing the job through.

Earlier in the week they had been feeling the pressure, and were unwilling to talk to media after some race days. Now, the smiles are wide and their personalities are coming out.

So focused they had been on gold, they had even put a ban on seeing their families. Their last contact with them had been when they left New Zealand, in mid-July.

“We made a bit of an anti-family clause,” Aleh, the 26-year-old Aucklander, explains.

Says Powrie, a 24-year-old Aucklander: “We are a tight little unit when we're away, and we just tried to keep it like any other regatta."

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Aleh and Powrie are different, but similar enough to survive a four-year Olympic campaign. Aleh is a West Aucklander who got into sailing after being inspired by Team New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup campaign, while Powrie comes from a strong sailing family on the other side of town.

They first met at Kohimarama Yacht Club when they were 11 and sailed against each other in the P class. They first joined forces in 2006 in the double-handed 420 class ahead of the 2007 world championships, which they won.

They've gone on to win silver and bronze at 470 world championships, but the crowning moment came yesterday, when they dominated the current world champions from Britain, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, to win Olympic gold, New Zealand's first in a boat since Russell Coutts won the Finn class off Long Beach, California, in 1984.

They spend more time together than some married couples. They are Team Jolly - from Jo and Polly. “We spend every day together and you have your trying moments, like everybody, but as long as you are enjoying it, you get these fantastic highs.” Like winning an Olympic gold medal. Fairfax NZ

- © Fairfax NZ News

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