LONDON (Reuters) - Once the preserve of old-school yachtsmen, the America’s Cup has become the go-to event for Olympic athletes with the abilities needed to tame supercharged catamarans.
Among the six teams vying for the oldest trophy in international sport in Bermuda this month, 26 crew members have competed in the Olympics, many winning medals in sailing and others in sports such as rowing and cycling.
And although Britain’s Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, counts for nearly 1 in five of the medals with his four and one silver, the other America’s Cup Olympians have amassed another 22 between them, a Reuters survey shows.
Some of the crews competing in Bermuda for the “Auld Mug” have a greater Olympic concentration than others and Groupama Team France, with only one on board, was eliminated in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup qualifiers.
Of the other four teams hoping to challenge Oracle Team USA, Sweden’s Artemis Racing has a total of eight Olympians in its sailing squad, while Emirates Team New Zealand has six and SoftBank Team Japan and Britain’s Land Rover BAR, who were knocked out in their semi-final, four apiece.
The America’s Cup defender has three athletes who have competed in the Olympics, including tactician Tom Slingsby who won gold for Australia in the Laser dinghy in 2012.
The British and Swedish crews each have a total of eight medals, the New Zealand Team seven, Japan two and the U.S. one.
New Zealand’s hotshot Peter Burling, the youngest helmsman in the event at 26, and British tactician Giles Scott, 29, both jumped straight back into the America’s Cup boats after winning gold medals in Rio last year.
But it is not just Olympic sailing prowess on show in Bermuda’s Great Sound. New Zealand rower Joe Sullivan won gold in the double sculls in 2012, while cyclist Simon Van Velthooven picked up bronze in the Keirin event the same year.
The New Zealand team brought Van Velthooven on board as their secret weapon to power a revolutionary pedaling system, with “cyclors” replacing the winch grinders used by other crews.
Luring athletes from other disciplines on board is not entirely new for the America’s Cup. Emirates Team New Zealand successfully harnessed the power of rower Rob Waddell, who won gold in the single sculls in Sydney in 2000, as a grinder.
But the physical demands of racing the power-hungry 50-foot America’s Cup Class foiling catamarans, which have a crew of six, requires a new mix of strength, speed and stamina.
Iain Percy, who won two golds and a silver in successive Olympics, said communicating with his heart rate pumping near its maximum while “grinding” the winches is as tough as it gets.
Oracle Team USA hired former open water Olympic swimmer and iron man Ky Hurst to fill one of its “grinder” positions, while Artemis Racing has Anders Gustafsson, who competed in four games in the canoe sprint.
“The “grindfest”, its very demanding for a 41-year-old ... it hurts,” Artemis Racing’s team manager and tactician Percy Percy told Reuters in a recent interview.
Editing by Mark Heinrich