Star Team New Zealand sailors Blair Tuke, Peter Burling admit America's Cup 2024 in Auckland is their 'first choice'

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.
Peter Burling (left) and Blair Tuke. Photo credit: Photosport

By Clay Wilson for RNZ

A defence of a different kind is the most pressing priority for now, but Peter Burling and Blair Tuke remain hopeful the next America's Cup might still be hosted on New Zealand waters.

Full steam ahead towards the Tokyo Olympics, on Thursday the star Team New Zealand sailors revealed their reaction to the news the syndicate had turned down the government's offer to host the next edition of the regatta.

The decision meant the pair may not get the chance to repeat their feats of earlier this year in helping to successfully defend the Cup on the Hauraki Gulf.

While they hoped that wasn't the case, Tuke said they also understood it was a challenging situation.

"We loved the time sailing here, the Cup and seeing how Kiwis enjoyed it.

"I know everyone's been working incredibly hard to keep it here, that would be the first choice, but we're also very aware of how challenging it is to hold an America's Cup in these times."

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton and America's Cup Minister Stuart Nash have insisted all was not lost.

Although the exclusive negotiating period between the parties was finished, and offshore offers would now be entertained, the key players say Auckland was not yet out of the running.

Burling said they were not giving up hope either.

"Everyone loved competing here. We're all incredibly proud Kiwis and speaking for everyone in Team New Zealand, we love the support we get from the country.

"We'll do everything we can to have it here but obviously Grant and all the team [involved with] the event have got to make things work and that's what they're trying to do."

Their current focus, however, was being channelled elsewhere.

Having gone almost immediately from the Cup regatta to their new Sail GP team, the pair shifted gears again last month.

With less than six weeks remaining until the reigning Olympic champions lined up for race one in Tokyo, Tuke said it was crucial to be back in the 49er in plenty of time.

"Although we've had a bit of practice over the years jumping in and out, it still takes a bit of time for us to get that real timing and intuition back between each other.

"We're happy with the progress [we've made]."

Their final push towards the Games began with a recent three-week stint in Northern Spain.

Burling and Tuke finished on top in one of the two practice regattas they competed in, and the former said their time in Santander proved very fruitful.

"It's on the Northern coast of Spain in the Atlantic there, so you get a relatively good swell and it's relatively similar to the conditions we expect in Japan.

"We got a great variety of conditions but we also got the opportunity to check in with the European fleet.

"Six or seven of the top 10 at the last World Championships were there so it was really good to check in with them and get a couple of regattas under our belt."

Reassured they were right up to speed with their rivals, their last month of preparation would be spent on Australia's Sunshine Coast.

Seven Australian boats and four other Kiwi boats were set to join them, making the total fleet just a handful short of an Olympic regatta.

Tuke said their time in Mooloolaba should tick several boxes.

"It's a pretty good sized fleet at a high level so it's going to be important to get good days on the water there.

"Also the conditions that Mooloolaba will provide. A bit of an ocean swell but also slightly warmer than the middle of winter here in New Zealand, and the heat factor is going to be a big factor up in Japan for all athletes."

Burling and Tuke were set to have about 10 days to get used to that Japanese heat, before their Games campaign got underway in Enoshima on 27 July.