New Zealand sailors aiming for Olympics gold

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 13:21 19/08/2014
Polly Powrie and Jo Aleh
PETER MEECHAM/ Fairfax NZ

GOLDEN GIRLS: Polly Powrie and Jo Aleh have won Olympics gold before, now they want the same in Rio.

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New Zealand's sailing team have started their campaign for the Rio 2016 Olympics and anything less than gold won't be good enough for the team of young hopefuls.

Olympics gold medallists Jo Aleh and Olivia "Polly" Powrie have another gold firmly in their sights after taking home the top place at the Olympics test event in Rio de Janeiro earlier this month.

The Aucklanders were barely Auckland-based anymore as they spent up to five months a year overseas on sailing pursuits, Aleh said.

The 28-year-old, who was originally from Miruwai but now lived on the North Shore, said juggling family life and sailing was a balancing act.

But when she came home she caught up on study towards her business degree, saw friends and family and delved into home baking so she could feed the team, she said.

Aleh said it had become easier for the pair to fund their campaigns since they brought home the gold medal in the Women's 470, or two-person dinghy, event from the London Olympics.

The pair was backed by High Performance Sport, Yachting New Zealand and they both had personal sponsors.

The pressure and expectations on the duo heading into the next Olympics and the qualifying ISAF Sailing World Championships in Santander, Spain, next month were a blessing and a curse, Aleh said.

Once a team had done well there was proof it had the ability to be the best, but it also put pressure on them to perform, she said.

This mindset was surely well-known to the country's Team New Zealand sailors.

Aleh, who took up sailing after being captivated by New Zealand's stunning 1995 America's Cup performance, suggested a few girls on the premiere team could help them reclaim the Cup.

Women would add "a bit of common sense" to the team, she said.

Powrie, 26, said the duo would go into the Olympics qualifying event next month and into Rio in 2016 as the defending champions.

"I think we have as much chance as anyone [to win gold]."

Powrie said she followed her siblings into sailing as the youngest of three children.

Aucklander Alexandra Maloney, 22, and her teammate Tauranga-native Molly Meech, 21, were on their first race to the Olympics.

The pair took home silver from the Rio event earlier this month, but they hoped to return to the Brazilian city in 2016 to claim the gold.

"We're not there to participate," Maloney said.

But they would have to qualify first.

Olympics silver medallist Peter Burling, 23, said he and teammate Blair Tuke were pipped at the post by the Australian team at the London Olympics but the Kiwi pair had beaten their Aussie rivals in their past four races.

And they could do it again in Rio, Burling said.

"Anything other than gold would be seen as a failure to be honest."

Burling said this month's Olympics testing event was a good opportunity to put the team's mind at rest about what to expect at the games.

There had been a lot of talk about a lack of breeze and debris and sewage in Guanabara Bay where the sailing events would be held during the Olympics.

However, the breeze and debris were better-than-expected, he said.

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Burling said there was a chance sailors could fall into the water and they were constantly being splashed but no one in the team got sick from pollution.

Yachting New Zealand high performance director Jez Fanstone said the Rio event was a success for the Kiwi team and now they would be looking to qualify for the Olympics.

Rio was a learning opportunity for the team, Fanstone said.

- Stuff

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