‘Anything can happen in sailing’: Burnet sets golden goal in Tokyo

‘Anything can happen in sailing’: Burnet sets golden goal in Tokyo

We shall never know, more’s the pity, what advice Sir Peter Blake would have given his niece as she prepared for an Olympic debut. What is at least certain is that Anna Burnet cherishes her family connection with Sir Peter, a famed New Zealand yachtsman who was shot dead at the mouth of the Amazon by pirates aged 53. Burnet was just nine at the time. She depicts a “very famous sailor” with a hint of understatement; Blake was a world record holder and twice America’s Cup winner.

“I think of him a lot, he has always been an inspiration,” Burnet says of her uncle. “And the rest of my family, they are all really into their sailing so everyone has been so supportive. It would be amazing to win a medal for them; they are already so happy that we are involved in an Olympics but to bring something back would just be incredible for all of them.”

Burnet will team up with John Gimson in sailing’s mixed Nacra 17 category, which was added to the Games programme in 2016. The duo collected silver medals at the European championships and a Tokyo test event with a fourth at the 2019 world championships adding to a sense of confidence around their Olympic hopes.

“Our goal is to win a gold medal,” says Burnet. “I hate saying that out loud because there can never be any certainty around that, or around winning any medal at all. If we get everything right and do the details well, we definitely have the ability to win a gold medal. But there are so many good teams and anything can happen in sailing, which is why it feels wrong to focus on results.”

A wise approach. However, Burnet and Gimson are following in illustrious footsteps in the waters of Enoshima. Britain has collected 58 sailing medals – including 28 golds – and sits at the top of the overall table for the sport.

“The last year has been so uncertain,” Burnet says. “We have gone through waves of different emotion. We always hoped this would all go ahead but the other scenarios went through your head. Other people would read articles about the Games maybe being postponed and ask what I thought. Stuff like that was a bit of a challenge, trying to block things out. So it’s so exciting that this is actually happening.”

At 38, Gimson is the more seasoned member of the team. A versatile racer, he spent more than a decade chasing – and funding – his Olympic dream before the Tokyo call came. “I have put everything that I’ve learned over the last 15 years together to build a solid campaign alongside Anna, who is by far the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Gimson says.

Burnet’s path has been different, if only by virtue of the fact she is nine years younger than her partner. When a teenager, she attended a talent camp hosted by the former Great Britain Olympic sailor Joe Glanfield, where goals were placed in perspective.

“You always just have an ambition of being at the Olympics without any real concept of when that might be,” Burnet explains. “In sailing, experience counts for so much. Someone like Joe just puts your ambition more into line because when you are young it’s like: ‘The Olympics? What about the next one?’ You have to go through a couple of Olympic cycles before you have enough experience.”