3 Oct 2017

New horizon beckons for Aleh

4:50 pm on 3 October 2017

After missing out on a berth in the Volvo Round the World yacht race double Olympic medallist Jo Aleh is taking a break from top flight sailing.

The 31-year-old, who won silver with Polly Powrie at last year's Rio Olympics, has decided to take a year off from the women's 470 to explore different sailing options.

Her main target was earning a ticket for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race but she just missed out on joining Team Brunel after an extensive trial period.

Contributing to the uncertainty for Aleh was the fact Powrie retired from Olympic sailing at the start of this year.

The pair had first teamed up in 2009, forging a successful partnership that delivered Olympic gold in London in 2012 and the 2013 world title.

They placed in the top four in every event after London, culminating in their silver at last year's Rio Olympics after a very tough regatta.

Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie celebrate winning Silver in the 470W class at the Rio Olympics.

Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie celebrate winning Silver in the 470W class at the Rio Olympics. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Aleh will start with the Auckland office of Ernst & Young in mid-November, working in advisory and the performance improvement subline.

The opportunity came about a result of Ernst & Young's global campaign to help athletes transition into the workforce and she hopes to end up in some form of consultancy eventually.

"My mind is made up, my contract signed, in mid-November I will be starting something completely different to anything I have ever done before," Aleh said.

"This unknown-ness is ultimately what led me to the decision to go in this direction. I always believe that I don't really know something until I try it.

"During this last year - all this searching for things to do, sailing different boats, being in different areas of sailing than I have been before - I have not found anything yet that completely excited me as much as my Olympic sailing did, or that really uses all the skills I have that I enjoy using.

"So rather than chasing myself back in circles doing things I already know, I am taking a leap in a new direction."

With the direction of one large part of her life solved, her future in sailing remains unclear but Aleh is sure about one thing.

"I have no intention of actually retiring just yet, as I have no idea what the future holds. I just know that, for now, I am going to try this direction and see where it takes me. I still plan on being involved on the side with various sailing activities - some coaching, mentoring and hopefully escaping work for an event here and there."

"After this year of uncertainty, I am really looking forward to the challenge, to being out of my depth once again, to meeting a whole new set of people, to using my mind, to pushing myself again. I am also plenty freaked out and nervous as well."

Team NZ win America's Cup: RNZ Checkpoint

Jo Aleh would have liked to have sailed alongside fellow Olympians Blair Tuke (left) and Peter Burling (right) at the America's Cup. Photo: RNZ / YouTube

In May, Aleh told RNZ she regretted not trying to get involved in Team New Zealand this year, but said most of the men onboard would have been hand picked anyway.

"I guess it would be nice if there was a way that women could get to the same level, but there's no opportunity to prove yourself - women will never get there without experience or learning but there's nowhere for us to get that."

She said she was working with The Magenta Project which aimed to create pathways into the sailing industry for women but was hoping to get on a Volvo Around the World Ocean Race boat later in the year.

Leslie Egnot is the only woman ever to helm an America's Cup boat, skippering the all-female crewed Mighty Mary in 1995.

Yachting New Zealand acting high performance director Ian Neely wished Aleh well with her new job and said the opportunity to campaign for a fourth Olympics would always be there for her if she chose to return to Olympic sailing.

"We will keep the door open for her if she wishes to come back to campaigning in this cycle but also offer her our support in whatever direction she chooses."