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Tokyo2020: Burling and Tuke ready for another Olympic journey at Enoshima

by Michael Brown/Yachting New Zealand 23 Jul 17:34 BST 24 July 2021
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke practicing off Enoshima ahead of Tokyo2020 Olympic Regatta © Sailing Energy

There's an email exchange between Peter Burling and Blair Tuke from 2008 sitting in the Maritime Museum that represents the start of one of the most successful partnerships in sailing history.

In it, a young Burling, fresh from competing in the 470 at the Beijing Olympics, wrote that he was “keen to helm the 49ers with someone” and asking if Tuke was interested.

Tuke responded in the affable way he's become known for: “The fast boats got a hold of you ay? Haha, but seriously I think that’s awesome that you are keen on sailing a 49er!”

Tuke smiles when reminded of that email.

"I was quite public among the youth sailors that I was keen to sail on the 49er," he said. "I wasn’t sure what Pete was going to do after the 470 but when he reached out I felt like it was a good opportunity.

"It’s a bit like how we treat things now, just try it and see how it goes. You never knew what the journey could have held at that stage."

To give a brief recap, it's involved six 49er world titles, Olympic gold and silver medals, two America's Cup wins together, a role as co-CEO's for the New Zealand SailGP Team and co-founders of their own environmental charity, Live Ocean. The only thing they didn't do together, although they both competed in it, was the last Volvo Ocean Race.

Almost incredibly for a pair who have seemed like a part of the New Zealand fabric for some time, Burling is still only 30 and Tuke 31.

The focus right now is very much on the Olympics, and on Tuesday they will begin their quest to win another gold medal and become the first combination to win double Olympic titles in the 49er class since it was first on the programme in 2000.

They will, of course, start as favourites and it's a position they like to be.

"I think we have got pretty used to expectations now," Burling said. "One thing you’d definitely prefer is going in as favourites rather than trying to catch up. We have done so many events coming in as favourites, it’s probably the position we’re most comfortable with."

This Olympic cycle has looked a lot different to the last, when they won virtually every regatta they competed in between the London and Rio Games and went on to win by a mammoth 43 points.

All of their other commitments have meant they haven't spent as much time in the 49er in the buildup to Tokyo as their last Olympic campaign but a lot of that has been because of a combination of opportunity and design.

"The more sailing you can do in different environments, the more skills you learn and the more well-rounded your sailing becomes," Burling said. "If you spent all that time sailing the one boat, I think we’d end up not making the gains we should. We ended up changing our campaign this time to try to be a bit shorter and to put more focus on how we spend our time.

"We are really happy with where we are at but at the same time there are a lot of really good teams going well out there so we are definitely under no illusions that we are going to have to sail well if we are to win another gold medal for our country."

Tuke thinks any one of about 10 teams in the 19-strong fleet could pick up a medal and a change to the light sea breezes that have casually drifted across Sagami Bay off Enoshima over the last week could spice things up.

Some weather models are predicting a typhoon to flick through the area early next week which could prove challenging.

They're the sort of conditions Burling and Tuke sought out in training, with various sorties to find the swell off Tutukaka and more latterly Santander and the Sunshine Coast.

It's not like they haven't seen those sorts of conditions before and they're ready for anything next week. It's all just part of the journey and, just the like early days of their partnership, they'll "see how it goes".

Michael Brown is Yachting New Zealand communications manager

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