Age of little concern to baby of Olympic team
Schoolboy sailors Carl Evans and Peter Burling are far from fazed about the test between youth and experience awaiting them at the Beijing Olympics.
The quietly-spoken pair will be the youngest by some way in the men's 470 double-handed dinghy event, which begins on August 11 at the yachting venue of Qingdao.
At 17 years and eight months, Burling, from Tauranga, will also be the youngest sailor in New Zealand Olympic history and the baby of the 182 competitors in the present New Zealand team.
Aucklander Evans is just 4-1/2 months older, and will celebrate his 18th birthday during the Games.
Burling's age has not been among issues taxing his brain in the build-up to his Olympic debut, and for good reason.
"I've not really thought about it too much," he said.
"We're always racing people older than us, so it's going to be no different."
While New Zealand has a tradition of producing good young sailors, Evans and Burling's precociousness is remarkable.
With Evans at the helm and Burling crewing, they burst on to the international scene two years ago, snatching the world 420 title in Spain by beating 45 mostly older and more seasoned combinations.
They retained their crown in Auckland in January last year, before deciding to moving up to the 470 class.
At the time, London in 2012 was seen as the more realistic Olympic target.
But at their very first international 470 regatta, last year's European championships, the pair put themselves in reckoning for Qingdao by finishing sixth in a star-studded fleet.
In January, they were 11th at the world championship in Melbourne, missing the top-10 medal race by a solitary point.
Other results this year have included second in the French Spring Cup and third at French Olympic Week.
While their rivals are full-timers, Evans and Burling have to juggle training with study, they are in their final year at Green Bay High School and Tauranga Boys' College respectively.
Burling admitted that he had been surprised at their progress in the 470 and could not put his finger on the reasons why.
However, the amount of racing they had done in the 420 had definitely helped when they jumped into the Olympic class boat.
They had spoken to the likes of board-sailor Barbara Kendall, about to embark on her fifth Olympic adventure, about what to expect at Beijing, where they will attend the opening ceremony, and at Qingdao.
As for their medal prospects, Burling said he was concentrating only on the process of getting the boat to go fast.
"I'll try to treat it like any other regatta," he said.
"I just want to do all the little things right and try not to focus on the big picture too much."
Among their supporters in Qingdao will be Burling's parents, Richard and Heather.
Richard Burling was their early coach, before former Olympic 49er representative Nathan Handley took over last year.
Handley believed his young charges' passion and their team-work were the keys to their success.
Often in double-handed boats, the sailors individually might have excellent skills in certain areas, while not necessarily complementing each other.
"These two guys seem to match up," Handley said.
"It's a combination that's world class."
Handley said neither he nor Yachting New Zealand was putting any pressure on the pair in terms of results, and Qingdao was seen as a stepping stone for London.
On paper, Evans and Burling would not be considered as medal prospects, but with Qingdao expected to provide tricky conditions, "who knows?"
"China's funny place," Handley said.
"We've just had a training regatta up there and it was really quite funky, so anything could happen."