2012 Olympics- A New Zealand team Form Guide for Weymouth
by Richard Gladwell on 14 Jul 2012
New Zealand will be represented in nine of the 10 Olympic sailing events at Weymouth.
470 W (NZL 75) Jo Aleh and Olivia "Polly" Powrie - Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta 2012 onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
New Zealand goes into the regatta with a team fresh with a lot of young talent, the likes of which have not been seen since the early 80's when Russell Coutts and Bruce and Barbara Kendall came to the fore - with a swelter of talent behind them who went on to make a signifcant footprint on the international sailing scene for the next decade or two.
The flip side of that coin, is that New Zealand does not have the crutch of two strong windsurfer competitors, aside from what JP Tobin may achieve. That discipline has delivered seven medals for New Zealand since the 1984 Olympics, and the Kiwis have not won an Olympic medals outside windsurfing since 1992.
However the scene is now set for that to change, as the pressure goes on to expand the kiwi prowess outside the windsurfer events.
Using a base of results from the 2010, 2011, 2012 Skandia Sail for Gold (SS4G) regattas, plus the 2011 Olympic Test event all sailed at Weymouth, plus the 2011 Worlds in Perth, the top New Zealand crew is Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie in the Womens Two Hander (470). They won the 2012 SS4G and the 2011 event, placed fourth at the Test Event (previously known as the Pre-Olympics, where just one crew per country was allowed).
In the 2011 Worlds in December in Perth, they placed fourth, and were eighth in the 2010 SS4G – but at that stage had been in the 470 for just two years.
With those results they look comfortable performing in the Olympic sailing venue. Aleh and Powrie have been sailing together since the 2007 420 Worlds, in Takapuna when they were the top performing womens crew. Aleh represented New Zealand in the 2008 Olympics in the Laser Radial class finishing seventh, but knowing she could probably have been higher placed.
This will be Jo Aleh's second Olympic regatta. Two are generally reckoned to be a pre-requisite for anyone to medal at a Sailing Olympics. Aleh is a tough, hard nut, very talented and with a great attitude. Powrie is a nice offset. Together she and Powrie have often shown the other ability essential for success – to come through when the pressure goes on at the end of a regatta. They are a crew that likes a breeze, and their challenge will be to hold onto the top end of the fleet when there is racing in light winds.
Oddly, on the basis of recent form, Andrew Murdoch is New Zealand’s next best hope sailing in the Mens Singlehander (Laser) event. Oddly, because Murdoch was an early selection for the 2012 team and in this European season has turned in some indifferent results. Both Sam Meech and Andy Maloney have given the 2012 Olympic representative more than a hurry up. Normally, early selection is used to give a nominee that is head and shoulders above the rest - the all clear, and tell him or her, to put aside concerns about having to earn selection, after they have qualified NZ for their Event – and to instead focus on Olympic preparation.
Murdoch was selected early, but was part of a very strong and intense program in the Laser class in which five competitors were participating, any one of which could have gone on to represent New Zealand at a previous Olympics. So it was a little surprising that the early selection was made, but Murdoch does tick a lot of boxes. He is on his second Olympics, placing fifth in 2008 – winning the final fleet race and then the Medal race.
At Weymouth in the 2012 SS4G he placed ninth – which was rather typical of his recent form – but also sailing in an open fleet. In the 2011 SS4G he was second. He placed fourth in the 2011 Test Event, and was third at the 2011 World Championships, and in 2010 he was fourth at the SS4G at Weymouth. 2012 SS4G result aside, that is very impressive record, and a consistent one, too.
Next cab off the rank for New Zealand, on the basis of previous performances at Weymouth, is probably JP Tobin in the Mens Windsurfer (RS:X). He is another who was a bit of a surprise early selection ahead of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, Tom Ashley who was lining up for his third Olympics. At the time of the selection, Tobin had been the one who qualified NZ in the RS:X, by virtue of beating Ashley in the Medal race. Prior to that double scoring race, it was Ashley who led.
So it was a big call at that time, and there was a strong case for the selection process to be continued. On the basis of performances at Weymouth, Tobin has the better record – although Ashley had taken time out to concentrate on University studies. Tobin was ninth in the 2012 SS4G, having finished second in the same event in 2011. He placed fourth in the Olympic Test Event in 2011, and sixth in the 2010 SS4G. Tobin was a handy fifth in the 2011 RS:X Worlds in Perth.
From 2008 to earlier this year, Tobin was coached by New Zealand windsurfing bronze medalist, Aaron McIntosh who also coached 2011 World Champion, Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED). After being selected Tobin has teamed up with the highly experienced New Zealand coach, Grant Beck - who worked with Tobin's rival Tom Ashley at the 2008 Olympics and with Barbara Kendall, for five Olympic Regattas and numerous world chanpoionships.
This will be Tobin’s first Olympics at the age of 35 years.But Tobin is another tough nut, having come back from a lot of adversity in terms of selection decisions during his jousting with Ashley over the Olympic berth for the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. That developed toughness has worked his way in the 2008-12 period, when Tobin has made an effort to get on top of his game and stay there. He came back from being on the wrong side of a difficult selection decision in 2008 and dedicated the next four years to the 2012 Olympic dream. JP is another who likes the breeze, and Weymouth seems to suit his style.
Next, using the basis of the Five Regatta results, is the crew that many see as NZ’s best chance for a medal at the 2012 Olympics. We have them in fourth place on the Olympic grid. Surprising, in that having been placed second at the last two World Championships for the Mens Skiff (49er), many would have Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in first place. But their Weymouth results are good but not stellar.
They placed 11th in the SS4G in 2012, missing the cut for the Medal Race. That was a one place improvement on the same event in 2011 where they finished 12th – again missing the cut. And they were eighth in the 2010 SS4G – after their second season in the class and what has been a sharp rate of ascent in their standings in the Olympic skiff.
Burling and Tuke’s best performance at Weymouth came in 2011 in the Olympic Test Event, where they placed third overall.
This regatta is Burling’s second Olympic regatta, remarkable considering he is still 21 years old. His mantra throughout a very successful sailing career has always been to move on quickly, rather than stick around and play the age level game. That attitude got him to the 2008 Olympics at just 17 years old, where he teamed up with Carl Evans. They placed 11th overall and won the ninth race. Not bad for a couple of teenagers. They are the youngest crew to have ever sailed in an Olympic regatta.
Tuke is a former World Champion in the Splash classand the 29er skiff. He and Burling have been sailing the 49er since the 2008 Olympics. They were second in the 2011 Worlds in Perth and were another early, and obvious selection for the New Zealand team.
A crew to watch, will be the Mens Two Hander (470) of Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders. This young crew sits in fifth place on the grid in terms of Weymouth results, but could well be higher on the basis of their performances this season. Currently they are second ranked crew on the world rankings for their class, maintained by the International Sailing Federation. Normally these points ladders are not well regarded, being a function of the number of events sailed – and New Zealanders are noted for not sailing as many ranking events as others in Europe.
But that standing shows the work done by this young crew – both are aged 21 years old, and this will be their first Olympics. At the 2012 SS4G in Weymouth they placed third, and were 10th in the 2011 regatta. At the 2011 Olympic Test regatta they placed 15th and 18th in 2010 at the SS4G. Snow-Hansen and Saunders were eighth in the 2011 Worlds, last December in Perth.
Snow-Hansen finished second in the 2004 Optimist Worlds, and won a silver medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds three years later, before switching into the 470 class – where the learning curve has been steep.
The question to be answered at Weymouth in 2012, will be whether their late burst of pace, will enough to get them past the more experienced combinations. But either way this regatta is a major staging post for a 2016 Olympic campaign.
For differeing reasons, the other four crews are harder to rate on the Five Regatta system.
In the Womens Singlehander (Laser Radial), Sara Winther did not have a good regatta at Skandia Sail for Gold in 2012, finishing 41st overall. Her coach, Mark Orams had a cycling accident sustaining injuries to both elbows was repatriated to New Zealand and will not be with her in Weymouth. His place has been taken by Ian Neely, YNZ’s Talent Development Manager, with Orams still being involved from New Zealand.
In the 2011 SS4G, Winther finished ninth, and was 22nd in the 2011 Olympic Test event six weeks later, in the same venue. She placed 10th in the 2011 World Championships in Perth and qualified New Zealand. Her Olympic selection was announced soon afterwards. Winther really got on the Olympic path for 2012 with a very creditable third placing in the 2010 Skandia Sail For Gold, where she placed third overall, sailing very consistently.
On the basis of her 2010 SS4G result in Weymouth Winther clearly has the capability, but needs to refocus under a new coaching régime.
Womens Match Racing is a new event, with New Zealand qualifying from the Perth ISAF World Championships. Stephanie Hazard, Jenna Hansen and Susanna Pyatt were also announced in the first wave of selections in late December by Yachting New Zealand.
The young New Zealand crew have had a difficult road to the 2012 Olympics, with Yachting NZ purchasing two of the new Elliott 6M boats and intending to run a squad selection process, with eventually a top crew emerging. For various reasons that process became fractured (as happened in several other similar programs internationally) and eventually the crews selected themselves and got a program running.
Despite qualifying for the 2011 Olympic Test Event, Yachting New Zealand did not send the womens match racing crew to compete, and instead they attended as spectators and did some training with other top crews after the regatta, and building into Perth in December, where they didn’t make the Quarter Finals, but still did enough to qualify.
At the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta earlier this year, the New Zealand crew finished a creditable seventh with a strong finish to their regattas after making a slow start. That was big improvement from their 2010 result at the SS4G where they placed 13th.
The task for the New Zealand crew will be whether they can continue their climb at the 2012 Olympics, clearly they have the ability, and also have resolve to pull up from a poor early showing in the early qualification rounds. A good start will be essential for their success.
In the Heavyweight Mens Singlehander (Finn), Dan Slater will be sailing his third Olympics, having sailed in 2000 in the 49er class in Sydney, and then switched to the Finn in 2008 where he placed 12th.
Slater did not compete in the 2012 Sail For Gold Regatta. His previous results in the 2012 Olympic venue have centred just outside the top five, placing sixth in the 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold, seventh in the 2011 Olympic Test Event, and sixth in the 2010 Skandia Sail for Gold.
Now in his mid 30’s the former ISAF Youth Gold and Silver medalist, had a disappointing 2011 World Championship in Perth, finishing in 21st overall, but did enough to qualify NZ for the 2012 Olympics. Despite his previous record that position was enough to hex the selectors and he was not named in the first round of Olympic selections.
Certainly Slater has the necessary Olympic and big regatta experience. He placed second to Ben Ainslie in the 2008 Finn Gold Cup in Melbourne, leading the mercurial Brit right to the last days of the regatta, sailed in the big breezes for which Melbourne is renowned. Slater is a sailor that sails on confidence, if he can refocus after his late selection issues, then he has a good chance at Weymouth.
Hamish Pepper is another who will be lining up for his third and last Olympics in the Two Man Keelboat (Star). Pepper represented New Zealand in 2004 Olympics in the Mens Singlehander (Laser), finishing seventh. He moved into the Star class in 2009, sailing with Carl Williams and they won the Star Worlds in their Rookie year, followed wins in two other top US regattas. After a promising start, including a win in the fifth race, they faded to finish ninth overall.
That combination split after 2008, and Pepper regrouped with former Olympic Bronze medalist Craig Monk. That combination worked well, until conflicts with America’s Cup commitments pulled Monk back into the professional sailing ranks. In October 2011, Pepper started again with a new crew, Jim Turner (GBR) who is married to a NZer and therefore entitled to NZ Citizenship – an essential requirement to be able to represent NZ at the Olympics.
The only regatta this crew has sailed at Weymouth was in the 2012 Skandia Sail for Gold, where they placed 11th. Pepper placed ninth in the 2011 SS4G with Monk as his crew, and sixth in the 2011 Olympic Test Event, again with Craig Monk.
A public spat with Yachting NZ saw Pepper choose to sit out the 2011 World Championships, the first round of qualifying. A seventh in the Star Worlds in May 2012, was enough to earn the NZ Qualification place, and on the back of some strong results from the ISAF World Cup, Palma and the Bacardi Cup in Miami were enough for Pepper and Turner to be selected by Yachting NZ to join the New Zealand team for 2012.
Again, this will be another crew who will be very competitive if they can continue their late run of form. Pepper certainly has the Olympic experience, and should not be fazed. Additionally he has unfinished business from 2008, and a point to prove from the hard times of the 2008-2012 Olympic cycle. Certainly in a recent television interview the chemistry seemed to be present. There are no America’s Cup distractions and the short sharp focus of this phase of their 2012 Olympic campaign could mean that a fresh approach will work their way. This will also be the final regatta for the Two Man Keelboat at the Olympics, and there will be no second chances.
The 2012 Olympic regatta gets underway on July 29, 2012 at Weymouth, England.
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