America's Cup: Team New Zealand's rookie crew backed to handle weight of expectation

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke had no trouble dealing with the weight of expectation at the Rio Olympics.
CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke had no trouble dealing with the weight of expectation at the Rio Olympics.

Team New Zealand have again put themselves in the box seat to win the America's Cup and one man familiar with several of the key sailors on board is confident they can handle the weight of expectation.

As Oracle work around the clock to improve their boat before racing resumes on Saturday (Sunday NZ Time), the biggest question facing the Kiwis is - unlike 2013 - can they kick on from their 3-0 lead and finish the job.

Team NZ helmsman Peter Burling and foil controller Blair Tuke are well-versed to dealing with public expectation.

Andy Maloney (right) and Josh Junior have excelled in their first America's Cup campaign.
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Andy Maloney (right) and Josh Junior have excelled in their first America's Cup campaign.

In the four years leading up to the 2016 Olympics, the pair only lost one regatta in the 49er class to make them the hottest of favourites in Rio.

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And they carried out the assignment with their usual calm approach, dominating the field to wrap up first place with a race to spare all while juggling the extra responsibility of co-captaining the New Zealand team.

As they attempt to repeat that performance in sailing's most famous event, Yachting New Zealand acting high performance director Ian Neely believes their Olympic experience will hold them in good stead.

"I don't think anyone's comfortable performing under pressure and expectation unless you've been practising in it regularly," Neely said.  

"Pete and Blair won every event they attended in the 49er between London and Rio bar one a few months before the Games, so the expectation was only getting greater as they got closer to the Olympics.

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"They've been living with that expectation for a while. It's become normal and they just want to be great yachtsmen."

Fellow Team NZ members Andy Maloney and Josh Junior have also come through the NZL Sailing Team.

Despite all appearing in their first campaign, Neely said it came as no surprise that they have been able to adapt so well to the cut and thrust of the America's Cup.

One of the keys to their success, Neely believed, was their ability to stay composed regardless of the situation.

"When the boat capsized it was no surprise that their attitude was, 'that's alright, we'll just get on and fix it'," Neely said. "It didn't surprise me at all that it wasn't a major issue for them."

While Junior competed at Rio, finishing seventh in the finn class, Maloney narrowly missed out on representing his country in the laser event.

But he shrugged off that setback and has grasped his America's Cup opportunity with both hands.

"It's fantastic for Andy," Neely said. "He did the same amount of hard work as any other Olympic campaigner and it's a reward and recognition for his value as a sailor and the person that he is."

Part of the unique cycle grinding unit that powers Team NZ's hydraulic system, Maloney and Junior have virtually been transformed into cyclists, but the switch is not as foreign as one would seem.

Neely said both used cycling as a key part of fitness programme in sailing.

And that they are both regulars on board while Olympic cyclist Simon van Velthooven usually interchanges with rowing gold medallist Joe Sullivan, means they may well be contributing in other areas.

"The sailing experience is part of it. I don't have the facts but I would assume that they have critical roles as well as riding a bike," Neely said. "If they weren't critical then you'd be changing your cyclists more regularly."

 - Stuff

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