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America's Cup - Peter Burling on the Cup, the Olympics and the Volvo

by Peter White, Bay of Plenty Times on 1 Sep 2017
Emirates Team New Zealand - Peter Burling and Blair Tuke - Parade in Auckland, July 6, 2017 Richard Gladwell
Peter Burling has had so many accolades - including a few marriage proposals - since he brought the America's Cup back to New Zealand that it takes something out of the ordinary to impress him.

On Monday, nearly 1900 students performed a powerful haka in his honour at his old school Tauranga Boys' College that hit home to him on a deeply emotional level. (Tauranga is on the east coast of the upper half of New Zealand's North Island

So much has happened to Burling since he last did the school haka himself as a student back in 2008.

'It is pretty cool because you have been sitting there before. It is just as much my past as their future,' he said.

'I definitely remember doing that haka to a few other people who have come in to talk to us so it was pretty special to receive that.'

Burling is getting used to dealing with all the attention he gets on a daily basis but the quiet, shy boy from Welcome Bay would rather just be out on the water with his mates.

'The profile is part of it but I definitely prefer the sailing side of it more than that side. It is probably easier talking to a press conference in Bermuda about the sailing than that [Tauranga Boys'] audience,' he said.

'But it is part of what we do as successful sportspeople in this country.'

There were plenty of anxious moments on that stupendous journey to America's Cup glory over Oracle Team USA in Bermuda that captivated New Zealand.

A lack of money initially to fund the campaign, equipment failure and then a broken wing from the much-heralded capsize in the Challenger Series against Team Great Britain that nearly ended it all.

'The hardest moments were in New Zealand before we got to Bermuda. When we launched our new boat I'm not sure how much the media knew about the boards we broke and bits and pieces,' Burling said.

'We would look at the timeline and think of how much we had to get through to even get to the start line with pretty competitive appendages. But once we got to Bermuda and had been through so much to get everything ready, it didn't seem much was going to trip us up at that point as long as we were quick enough and as long as we sailed as well as we knew we could.

'It was definitely a bit of an unknown how fast [Oracle] were going to be. In the end we took about the right amount of risk to have a boat that was pretty quick and held together.'

There are just enough superlatives to give due credit to Burling's sailing achievements. At just 26 there is not much in the sailing world he has yet to conquer.

He won his first national title when he was 12 up against boys aged 16, his first world title when he was 15 and became the youngest New Zealand sailor to compete at the Olympics when he contested the Beijing games in his final year at Tauranga Boys' College in 2008.

That year he attended just 20 weeks of the school year but still performed well academically. Getting the balance right between training, competing and relaxing with people like his great mate Blair Tuke has always been a priority for Burling.

After school he completed most of an engineering degree at the University of Auckland before world domination in the 49er boat with Tuke took over, including a record sequence of wins and Olympic silver and gold medals.

And then came the America's Cup.

It was always going to be Burling's job as helmsman once Dean Barker was ousted after the disastrous campaign in San Francisco four years earlier. Burling stood up to defending champion Jimmy Spithill and won all but two of the crucial pre-race starts in Bermuda.

By the end Spithill was a broken man and Burling the newly anointed sailing king.

But Burling rates the 49er success with Tuke higher than the America's Cup feat.

'When I was a kid growing up, sailing dinghies was a lot more of a track pressing down to the Olympics. That's what we wanted.

'So it is going to be a special memory for a very long time how we won in Rio and hadn't been defeated for that four years beforehand and just dominated the whole way through.

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