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Peter Burling and Blair Tuke - a meteoric rise in the Olympic 49er

by Richard Gladwell on 21 Dec 2011
NZL Peter Burling and Blair Tuke take the Silver medal at the 2011 ISAF Sailing Worlds Alex Ocean Images

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke were today announced as part of the NZ Sailing Team for 2012 Olympics in Weymouth. They will sailing the Mens Skiff event, sailed in the 49er class. They teamed up after the 2008 Olympic regatta in Qingdao to learn the ropes in the 16ft twin trapeze, Olympic skiff designed by Julian Bethwaite, which debuted in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Between the two of them, they have won four world championships in three classes - all before they turned 20 years old.

Peter Burling, an Engineering student from Tauranga will forever have a place in Olympic sailing history as being the part of the youngest crew, along with Carl Evans, to ever sail in an Olympic regatta. Just 16 years old when he started the regatta in Qingdao, Burling had his 17th birthday during the event. They rounded out their 470 Olympic regatta with a win in the Medal Race.

In December he was named a NZ's Young Sailor of the Year, and he and Blair Tuke followed that up three weeks later with a Silver medal at the 49er World Championships in Perth.

Sail-World caught up with Burling and Tuke before today's announcement.

SW: Peter you are the youngest crew to ever sail at the Olympics and are probbaly the best known product of what is known as the Tauranga Sailing Factory - how did you start out?

Burling: I started out in sailing on the standard Youth path - sailing Opti’s and did the Nationals a few times. I grew quite early so I out-grew classes quite quickly. I was out of the Opti at about 13 years old. Then jumped into the P-class and then the Starling – and then ended up in a 420 – I spent a couple of years in that and managed to win the worlds a couple of times.. Then it was onto the 470 – and things just went from there.

SW: And what is your sailing background, Blair?

Tuke: A little different to Peter's. I had been around the water a lot – pretty much every day, but I only started racing when I was about 12 years old doing team racing at Kerikeri High School. We did pretty well with that for three or four years, then I started sailing the Splash, and I sailed those for three years winning the worlds once – then I moved into the 420, 29er and then the 49er with Pete.

SW: How did you find the transition into crewing in the 49er?

Tuke: I crewed in the 420 after sailing the Splash and also crewed in the 29er for a couple of years, went to the Youth worlds for a couple of years and a couple of worlds, one of which I won.

SW: Peter you were only 16 when you started sailing in the Olympics, as a forward hand in a 470, how did you find the transition from a crew back to a skipper?

Burling: I’d always been a skipper before the 420 and 470, and I only crewed because I had got too big to steer the boat, so I only crewed for three years. I had obviously being doing a lot of helming as well in teams racing. It was more getting to know how to sail a skiff and running across the boat and all sorts of things like that to learn how to make skiff sailing easy. That was more of a challenge than steering, I think.

SW: Blair are you still on a learning curve?

Tuke: Yes we have only been together for two and a half years. The learning curve was pretty steep for the first two years. Everytime we went sailing we’d make an improvement with something. Now we are towards the top end of the fleet it has flattened off a bit. It is more small steps than a big improvement for us now. We are still learning everyday and feel like we are on track.

SW: You had a stint in the foiling moth this year, Peter, how did that work into the 49er sailing?

Burling:We did the worlds at the beginning of the year – had a lot of training in it and had a lot of fun. It one of the few boats in which things actually happen quicker than the 49er in terms of decision making and reaction times – you learn very quickly about things in the foiling moth. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. It was good.

The 49er and Moth are quite similar it is just a matter of how fast you bear away – once you have learned all that it is a matter of picking up the tacking and things like that.

SW: If you were coming through the ranks again – and for kids that are about 12 and wondering what to do – what would each of your your advice be?

Burling:Just keep training hard and try and learn and understand what makes the boat actually go fast. Be aware of all the things that you are doing. Those are the main things.

Tuke: I came up through a different route from Peter, but the principles are still the same. Work hard yourself – even when you sailing by yourself. Not having a coach out with you all the time.

Learning everything you can with the boat to make it go fast.

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