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OLYMPICS: McIntosh on track for golden goal

Brace yourself for an Aussie gold rush come September. Once the 2000 Sydney Olympics start, 'Advance Australia Fair' will be heard close to 30 times. In sad comparison, 'God Defend New Zealand' will only be dusted off for two or three plays.

There are few genuine Kiwi contenders for Olympic glory - rower Rob Waddell, the equestrian team, discus thrower Beatrice Faumuina, perhaps cycling's Sarah Ulmer and the men's pursuit team.

Yachting consistently yields Olympic medals for New Zealand, no class more so than the Mistral boardsailors. Aaron McIntosh and Barbara Kendall will once again attempt to better the world's best boardsailors.

Bucklands Beach resident McIntosh first had to overcome the challenge of world-class Kiwis Jon-Paul Tobin and Bruce Kendall at the recent Yachting New Zealand Olympic trials off Eastern Beach.

The 1998 World Champs underlined just how strong New Zealand is in this class, with McIntosh first by an impressive 26 points, Kendall seventh and Tobin eleventh. Barbara Kendall also won her first world title that year.

But each country can only send one male and one female boardsailor to the Olympics, hence the importance of the recent trials. Tobin has improved sufficiently since 1998 to seriously trouble McIntosh.

After five of the regatta's 11 races, McIntosh had won three and Tobin two, with Kendall a distant third. But McIntosh then reeled off five consecutive firsts to clinch top spot with two races remaining.

Now he has a busy five months planned, with major events around the world followed by spells at home. There's the European Champs in May, the North American Champs in July and the Oceania Champs in August, interspersed with training and competition in Sydney.

McIntosh says: "We're never going to see another regatta like Sydney again." Even with five of the world's top 20 absent because of the one sailor per country rule, he reckons seven of the 37 men are capable of winning gold.

Combine that with Sydney's variable conditions and there's the potential for extremely exciting racing. McIntosh says: "Sydney Harbour is very landlocked, the winds are very shifty and the conditions are very tricky."

Adding further to the variation is the fact that the boardsailing will be held over three courses, each with different characteristics, compared to just one at Savannah: "That will make it so interesting."

McIntosh will steel himself for any conditions: "Light winds, strong winds, flat water, choppy water." He is working hard to rectify flaws exposed when he placed 10th in light conditions at last year's World Champs.

Winning boardsailing races is all about reading the conditions. "That's 90% of it, maybe even more. It's all about where you position yourself on the course. Local knowledge is king."

That's why the 28-year-old has so far spent a total of six months living and training in Sydney during the last three years and why that percentage will rise sharply in the run-up to the Olympic regatta, starting on September 17.

Some of McIntosh's biggest rivals have been living in Sydney for a while now but he is happy to train there in short intensive stints before returning home to stave off staleness. "I'm lucky, I can catch the bus back home in the evenings."

McIntosh was devastated to place fourth at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics off Savannah: "I sailed a great regatta but I didn't achieve what I wanted. Now I'm focused on realising my goal, I know what I've got to do and I know I can do it."

No man has won as many world boardsailing titles as three-time champion McIntosh. He almost added a fourth this year in Argentina and was just one point off the lead when bad weather cancelled the final two races.

McIntosh was not too distraught at missing out - the World Champs are not his major goal for 2000. The event was another demonstration of the consistency which has seen him miss out on a podium finish just twice at the World Champs in the last eight years.

McIntosh sailed boats while growing up and had three friends who were keen boardsailors. After "bludging their gear off them," he bought his first windsurfer as a 15-year-old: "I saved all my paper run money for four years."

A third placing at the 1990 Youth World Champs prompted the former Macleans College student to boldly state he would challenge Bruce Kendall for New Zealand's berth at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

At that stage, Kendall was Olympic champion and McIntosh was considered a teenage upstart. "It was amazing how many negative comments I got that I'd never do it." Those people underestimated McIntosh's resolve and ability.

He almost won the Olympic trial: "It came down to whoever beat who in the last race and Bruce beat me by three or four seconds." He accompanied the Kendalls to Europe as a training partner: "I learnt so much from Bruce and Barbara."

Story courtesy of the Counties Manukau Sport newspaper

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