America's Cup: From awestruck kid to awesome sailor, Blair Tuke's journey from spectator to champion

Team New Zealand linchpin Blair Tuke was a kid in short pants watching from the dock when the Kiwis last defended the Americas Cup in 2000.
He remembers viewing in thrall those Peter Blake inspired heroes men such as Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth and Murray Jones perform their special deeds for New Zealand, and clearly something resonated.

The kid had his heroes, and they loomed large in his dreams.

Blair Tuke lifts the Auld Mug for the second time as New Zealand once again rules the sailing world.

A few years later Tuke was out there himself emulating those heroes, eventually becoming good enough to jump on board with Peter Burling and win eight world championships and a pair of Olympic medals in the 49er, and then get the callup to Team NZ where he would be part of the team that brought the Americas Cup back from Bermuda in such memorable style.

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* 'Absolutely unreal': Team NZ helmsman Peter Burling blown away by America's Cup victory

The 31-year-old from Northland recalled those early inspirations on Wednesday in Auckland after playing his part as flight controller essentially running the foils that are such a huge part of these AC75 boats in Team New Zealands fourth Americas Cup victory, and just their second successful defence.

Team New Zealand celebrate retaining the America's Cup.

It had been a struggle for a while there, as Luna Rossa edged out to a 3-2 lead that had this nation of 5 million on the edge of its collective seat.

But then came the correction that captivated a country and lifted the oldest trophy in international sport as Team NZ rattled off five straight victories to take the 7-3 triumph.

I was 10 or 11 years old when Team NZ first defended the Cup in 2000, recalled an ecstatic Tuke after the 46-second victory on Wednesday that sent downtown Auckland into an outbreak of delirious celebration.

Fiona Goodall/Getty Images
Team New Zealand's Blair Tuke celebrates with his father Andy after the America's Cup victory against Luna Rossa.

I think I was mainly up in Northland, but spent one day down here watching. So many of the guys and girls behind me in the team have similar memories, so to have the opportunity to sail and race for Team NZ and to defend it is a huge honour.

The way we put the campaign together was a tight battle. Luna Rossa really came out firing and took it to us but we slightly built into the series and got better and better every race and today was just a great race for us and really showed t speed of the boat.

It was a good way to end it.

For one last time, Todd Niall and Duncan Johnstone analyse New Zealand's cup winning final race and look ahead to the future of the America's Cup.

Later, soaked in champagne, the Auld Mug proudly on display in front of him, Tuke was asked about those seeds that were sown for him back in 2000, and the responsibility of perhaps inspiring a new generation of Kiwi sailors now.

The Americas Cup, how it captures New Zealanders is very unique, Tuke told Stuff during a brief respite in the celebrations that were unfolding around Aucklands Viaduct.

Everyone around the country has memories of the Americas Cup and where they were when watching it. Its no different for all of us in the team.

For us now to have the opportunity to represent our country and win the cup again on home waters is something we are very honoured to do.

Coming into this, we knew what that meant. We embraced it, and took it on for what it was.

That doesnt sit lightly with us. To defend it again and to know its with us for a bit longer is awesome. I hope Kiwi kids right around the country, not just the ones out on the Hauraki Gulf or watching in Auckland, from the top to the bottom, got to watch this and enjoy it.

Its a heck of a battle to lift it up again, but its so awesome for New Zealand.

It was why Tuke was still pinching himself long into the night about the special moment that unfolded when this fabulous team were awarded that huge trophy to keep for the next three, four or however many years it will be before someone finds a way to defeat them on the water.

Fans show their appreciation for Team New Zealand.

That was a special moment to understand how much work goes in to defend this, and try to win it again, by 100-150 people in what was a very difficult year last year. It means a heck of a lot and why it was a special afternoon today.

Its been a heck of a fight these guys put up. They really came out firing and we had to respond and improve. Were proud of how we did that. We had to learn some different pre-start techniques than what maybe wed trained to.

But thats the strength of the group, being able to learn and adapt to new situations. And the boat that we had was a weapon. It would have been great maybe with some more wind to get her right to her full potential, but even in these conditions she was going nicely.

The old firm of Blair Tuke and Peter Burling get their hands on the America's Cup once again.

Tuke was especially proud of the way Team NZ finished this captivating regatta. They had kicked clear with a crucial double victory on Monday, then outduelled the Italians in a compelling neck-and-neck match race on Tuesday to take them to match point.

Then they sealed the deal in style with a brilliant early tactical effort on Wednesday, and then a display of speed Luna Rossa just could not live with.

We had to prove it and I am really proud to have done that over the last week. We built into the series nicely and to finish off with that race at the end was special.

Inspiring stuff. The next generation is on notice.


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