Down-to-earth duo quick to make an impact

GOLDEN GIRLS: Olympic sailors Jo Aleh, left, and Polly Powrie called into Timaru only briefly yesterday but made quite an impression.
GOLDEN GIRLS: Olympic sailors Jo Aleh, left, and Polly Powrie called into Timaru only briefly yesterday but made quite an impression.

Aucklanders Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie are getting used to the limelight after winning New Zealand's first Olympic gold medal in a yacht since 1992.

While still not instantly recognisable to New Zealanders, they admit they only have to mention the gold medal and people click to who they are.

Sponsors should also be lining up as they certainly are a likeable pair, laidback and able to laugh at themselves, but with a steely resolve to win.

At London their dinghy was dubbed "Muppet" to remind them they could make stupid mistakes at times and despite the pressure of the Olympics, to not take themselves too seriously.

It worked a treat and it was the style of their win in the women's 470 on the last day of their competition that gripped the nation.

Dubbed the "Battle of the Bay" off the Dorset coastline, the equation was simple. The Kiwis had to beat the hosts Great Britain across the line and they did it style, dominating and then winning the race.

Since then their gold medals have been well handled as they tour yacht clubs and schools.

In fact the identical medals can be distinguished by their different dents, but neither is worried.

Aleh dropped hers on the first day, while Powrie's has been scratched somewhere along the way.

Both laugh it off and will be happy if one day the ribbon holding it wears through - if it inspires more kids to chase their Olympic dreams.

Aleh says the best thing she has done since returning to New Zealand was going back the yacht club were they both started.

"They pulled out our old P-classes we started sailing in and we raced each other."

The good news for Kiwi sports fans isthe pair have their sights set on defending their dinghy title in Rio in four years time, despite offers of going into bigger boats.

There is no free ticket however, as they will still have to go through the hurdles and qualify despite being the reigning Olympic champions.

"There are no free rides but we are enjoying the rest of this year before the serious stuff starts again," Powrie said.

Aleh encouraged anyone thinking of taking up yachting to have a go. "It's a cool sport because it is a sport for life. You don't have to be serious, you can just go cruising if you want to."

Both remember sailing on Caroline Bay when they were younger and national competitions. The first thing they did when getting out of the car at the Timaru Yacht and Power Boat Club was to check the wind - near perfect, apparently.

The Olympic sailors were brought to Timaru by the ANZ Bank and spoke at a private function last night along with Timaru's Olympic cyclists Marc Ryan and Shane Archbold. Aleh immediately asked "Shane's the one with the mullet, isn't he?"

The Timaru Herald