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Craftinsure 2021 - LEADERBOARD

Gold Medalist and Masters Champion takes the tiller of women's sailing

by Suzanne McFadden 21 Oct 09:34 BST 21 October 2021
Gold medallist from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jenny Armstrong, goes sailing with Olympic 470 sailor Dan Willcox © Joshua McCormack | Yachting NZ.

2000 Olympic gold medallist Jenny Armstrong is now plotting the course of women’s sailing in New Zealand - and she's already leading by example, Suzanne McFadden discovers.

As a kid sailing her P class dinghy on the upper reaches of the Otago Harbour, Jenny Armstrong wanted nothing more than to beat the boys.

“That’s what motivated me from the very beginning,” she says.

Fast forward almost 40 years, and although she's is now an Olympic gold medallist and the new head of women’s sailing at Yachting New Zealand, Armstrong's incentive - on the water at least - remains the same.

She is New Zealand’s reigning masters champion in the Laser Radial dinghy, having beaten a fleet of male and female sailors at the nationals sailed off a blustery Worser Bay in Wellington back in January.

“It was really fun beating the guys,” Armstrong laughs from her home in Dunedin.

Her other motivation was simply to get on the start line, coming back from knee surgery following a mountain bike crash. The conditions suited her to a tee.

“No races were sailed in less than 20 knots of breeze. I don’t race very much these days, only locally, so those are the conditions I know. Windy is okay with me,” she says.

This weekend, Armstrong is heading up to Picton to sail in the South Island Laser Radial champs. But she’ll also be taking the opportunity to talk to the younger sailors – in particular, the girls – about the pathways they can follow in sailing.

Armstrong can speak to them from her own fascinating personal experience.

From those early days racing out of Ravensbourne Boating Club in dinghies, the 13-year-old Armstrong wanted to be an Olympian. Back then, women had to sail against men at the Olympics - until the 470 women’s class was introduced at the 1988 Games, and Kiwis Leslie Egnot and Jan Shearer won Olympic silver.

When a women’s single-handed boat was first sailed, at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Armstrong made sure she was on the start line. She finishing a creditable fourth in the Europe class.

Eight years later, living across the Tasman, Armstrong switched nationalities and won Olympic gold in the 470 with Zimbabwean-born Belinda Stowell. It was Australia’s first sailing gold medal in 28 years.

Since then, she’s always worked in sailing - in yacht charters and brokerages, or as a coach. “There’s so much you can do in the industry, it’s not just about sailing,” she says. It’s a message she wants to get across to girls through her new role, putting Yachting NZ's women and girls in sailing strategy into action.

“I think I understand what it’s like - and I know it's not easy. But it gives me more street cred that I’ve done it,” she says.

Armstrong started as Yachting NZ’s manager of both the women’s sailing and Laser Radial programme this week. She takes over from Rosie Chapman, a British 470 sailor who had a couple of years in those roles, but is moving to the United States.

For the rest of this story

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