Yachting: Team Jolly on a new tack

New_Zealand's Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie. Photo by Reuters.
New_Zealand's Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie. Photo by Reuters.
As far as new beginnings go, it wasn't a good start for Olympic gold medallists Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie.

It wasn't quite as spectacular, and public, as Oracle's costly capsize on San Francisco Bay, but it was painful nonetheless.

Aleh and Powrie were sailing a 49erFX, the new women's class being sailed at the Rio Olympics in 2016, when they capsized. It left Team Jolly - an acronym of Jo and Polly - a little embarrassed and Aleh in a moonboot.

"We were sailing in the 49er and it was a bit windier than what we should have been out in because we are still pretty bad at it and capsized," Aleh says.

"I was in the footstrap at the back and the boat tipped. The boat went one way and my foot the other. It's fractured with lots of nervy, ligamenty, strainy stuff. It's a mess. It's my first major injury in 15 years of sailing."

It hasn't put the pair off getting back in the 49er - "we will just take it a bit more slowly" Aleh says - and they are seriously considering switching classes for their next Olympic campaign.

Aleh and Powrie have only two realistic options in the sailing world. Unlike Peter Burling, who won Olympic silver with Blair Tuke in the men's 49er class at Weymouth, immediately hopped into an AC45 and seems destined for a future in the America's Cup, opportunities for women sailors are more limited.

There is talk of an all-women's crew entering the next Volvo Ocean Race, something that would interest both Aleh and Powrie, but the Olympics is their main focus and they recently made a commitment to another campaign.

They could stay in the women's 470 class, in which they won gold, or opt for the faster and more volatile two-handed skiffs and will make a decision early next year. They need to do it that far out from Rio to ensure their next Olympic campaign is on track.

The last one, of course, went very well and the pair were last night named Sailor of the Year at Yachting New Zealand's annual awards dinner. It capped off a highly successful 2012 when their lives changed considerably, even though they won, as they see it, just another regatta.

"It's been hectic," Aleh says. "A lot busier than we ever thought it would be. We just went sailing and didn't ever really think about what would happen afterwards if we did well.

"You come back [from the Olympics] and it starts with the welcome at the airport and hasn't really slowed down - the New Zealand Olympic Committee corporate stuff you do, lots of school visits, yacht clubs ... "

It's why they've rarely jumped back in the boat since winning gold in emphatic fashion in Weymouth. They went into the medal race on equal points with Great Britain but easily won it to claim New Zealand's first medal in a yacht since 1992 and the first gold in anything other than windsurfing since 1984.

"We are looking forward to next year when it will all quieten down and we can get back to training," Powrie says. "In the last month or so we have started looking forward again. We have been talking about the Olympics for the last two to three months and now we are starting to think about what to do next."

Those plans are on hold for the time being as Aleh mends her foot and, perhaps, a slightly bruised ego. Unlike Oracle, at least the damage isn't likely to run into the millions.


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