Published Saturday 11 August 2012

One of the really warming aspects of the 2012 Olympics for New Zealand has been the way sailing has reclaimed some of its former glory.
The brilliant gold medal effort today of 470 sailors Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie put the exclamation mark on a really solid regatta by the yachties. Aleh and Powrie were outstanding, with two firsts and three seconds among their nine races. They were indeed worthy winners.
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke had already set the New Zealand sailing camp alight by grabbing the silver medal in the men’s 49ers.
In addition, there were three other top-five performances by New Zealand at Weymouth – Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders in the men’s 470, Hamish Pepper and Jim Turner in the star, and Andrew Murdoch in the laser.
New Zealand sent nine sailing combinations to the 2012 Olympics and eight of them made the top 10. Several other sports wouldn’t have minded that sort of a return.
That consistent across-the-board success should help restore some credibility for a sport that has struggled at Olympic level for a surprisingly long time.
We’ve continued to contend in the America’s Cup, in the round-the-world epic and in other great races, but at the Olympics, the New Zealand sailors have been AWOL.
Except for our boardsailors, who have a proud tradition stretching back to Bruce Kendall at Los Angeles in 1984, there have been no medals since 1992 and no golds since 1984.
A myth seems to have grown in New Zealand sport circles that we are super sailors at Olympic level. If only it was so.
It’s true that the first time New Zealand was represented at the Olympics, by Jack Cropp and Peter Mander in Melbourne in 1956, we won a gold medal. They competed in the sharpie class and beat a crack Australian team, even if it did require a protest after the final race for the New Zealanders to squeak through.
Helmer Pedersen and Earle Wells won the flying Dutchman in 1964, though all the talk that year was of Peter Snell’s 800m-1500m double and the yachties got rather swamped by those heroics.
After that, though, there wasn’t another medal until the 1980s, when there were medal splurges in 1984 and 1988.
Barbara Kendall in 1992 became only the second New Zealand woman (after Yvette Williams 40 years earlier) to win an Olympic gold medal and there were also two silvers and a bronze for our sailors in Barcelona that year.
But since then it’s been a rather sorry tale, to the point where the expectations for the 2012 Olympic yachties by New Zealand sports followers were rather low.
While the sports prophets speculated about Valerie Adams and Nick Willis, our rowers and cyclists, Lisa Carrington, and perhaps the BMX and equestrian representatives, the yachties seldom rated much of a mention.
How nice then to see the glory times returning for one of the traditionally great New Zealand sports.