Untouchable pair has eyes only for gold
There are no certainties in sailing because there are so many variables. Or so the theory goes.
Burling and Tuke have done their best to blow that rationale out of the water with an unprecedented run of success in this tricky Olympic class that requires the balancing skills of a high-wire artist to go with all the basics of sailing.
Yes, they’ve been beaten in actual races. But in a regatta format over a series of races as the Olympics will be, their consistency has proven untouchable. They’ve strung together 26 consecutive international titles, including four worlds, in an unbeaten run since claiming silver at the last Olympics.
The moment they were handed their medals at London 2012, the pair looked at them and made a commitment to turn them into gold in four years time.
That time has now rolled around and they are the hottest favourites of any sailors lining up in any of the 10 classes at Rio. But they’re more than that – they find themselves on the lists of gold medal prospects in any of the Olympics sports produced by every major news organisation around the world.
They aren’t daunted by this, they are motivated by it. As naturally gifted as they are, under the watchful eye of coach Hamish Willcox they have looked at every tiny avenue in their boat and skills to squeeze the maximum out of this campaign.
It’s their ability to dominate in a wide variety of conditions that has set them apart and Rio could throw plenty of variances with five different courses being used.
Their insatiable thirst for improvement is a source of pride: ‘‘It has been about keeping on learning and keeping on pushing ourselves and keep pushing forward to be able to win come any conditions in Rio,’’ Burling said.
‘‘We have been working super hard to keep that edge over the rest of the fleet and they are all working super hard to try and catch us. We’re really looking forward to that challenge.’’
They are revelling in the pressure of expectation rather than hiding from it, saying they’d rather be in their position than their rivals.
Yachting New Zealand’s high performance director Jez Fanstone marvels at their ability to deal with that and doesn’t see it sinking under the pressure of the Games.
‘‘I’m confident that they can keep their heads and do what they need to,’’ Fanstone said of the current world sailors of the year.
He also believes they have something special in long-term coach Hamish Willcox.
‘‘They complement each other well and Hamish is able to keep them focussed on their 49er without all the other distractions and keep them going forward and relaxed and looking forward to going sailing.
‘‘It is long hours on the water, long hours in the gym, long hours preparation and time away. The goal now is to bring that all together to where you are just looking forward to going racing in Rio on the first day of the regatta.’’
New Zealand 49er stars Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are the heaviest of favourites in the 10 yachting classes at the Rio Olympics.