Rex Sellers was one of New Zealand’s most successful yachtsmen. He won an Olympic gold medal (with Chris Timms) in the tornado class in 1984, a silver (with Timms) in 1988 and finished fourth (with Brian Jones) in 1992. In addition, Sellers was third (with Mark Rayner) at the 1982 world champs at Kingston.
Sellers, born in 1950, was a yachtie of considerable experience before he ever got to the Olympics. As early as 1961 he was sailing in the Scootum class before progressing through P Class, Cherubs and 470s into the Flying Dutchman and then, in 1977, Tornados.
He and Gerald Sly were chosen to represent New Zealand at the Tornado class at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but never competed because of the American-led boycott. They and the Brazilians would have been pre-Olympic gold medal favourites.
However, Sellers and Rex Sly had a falling out and late in the piece, Sellers asked long-time rival Chris Timms if he wanted to team up. They hadn’t been the best of friends and were different personalities – Sellers quiet and considered, Timms ebullient and outspoken – but they sailed brilliantly together.
When the next Olympics, in Pusan, rolled around four years later, Sellers and Timms combined again, though they didn’t see a lot of each other in the interim – Sellers was a fisherman in Nelson (he moved to Auckland in 1990), Timms a resin chemist in Auckland.
In the extremely testing conditions at Pusan, the New Zealanders won a silver medal behind peerless Frenchmen Nicholas Henard and Jean-Yves le Deroff to confirm they were still right in the top world class.
Sellers and Timms were preparing for their third Olympics together, at Barcelona in 1992, when their partnership split and Sellers instead went to Barcelona with Brian Jones as his crew. They proved extremely competitive and were shaded for a medal, finishing fourth.
Sellers was by now getting long in the tooth for a top-class yachtie, but he and Jones attended the Atlanta Olympics – Sellers was by then nearly 46 – though they could manage just a 15th placing from 19 starters.
Sellers, along with Timms and Russell Coutts, was named New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year in 1984. Two of Sellers’ sons, Ross and Brett, rose to national prominence in sailing.
Sellers and his second wife, Beverley, continued to live in Auckland, though Sellers derived most of his income from his fishing interests in Nelson. During the 2002-03 America’s Cup, Sellers was employed by the American team, Oracle.