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America's Cup- Emirates Team NZ hooks up second Kiwi talent stream

by Richard Gladwell on 14 Jan 2014
Blair Tuke and Peter Burling on the 2012 Olympic medal podium at Portland, Weymouth © Richard Gladwell www.richardgladwell.com

At a media conference at their Auckland base, this morning (NZT), Emirates Team New Zealand have announced the signing of 2013 49er World and European Champions and 2012 Olympic Silver Medalists, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.

The move had been signaled for some time when Emirates Team New Zealand's CEO Grant Dalton first said that the team would campaign two AC45's in future America's Cup World Series.

The duo were also awarded New Zealand Sailors of the Year, last December, also won the inaugural Red Bull Youth America's Cup in a Yachting New Zealand backed NZL Sailing Team, sailed in matched AC45's.

They have been sailing together in the Olympic 49er class since 2009, and if they gain selection for New Zealand in 2016, it will be Burling's third Olympic Regatta, having sailed his first in Qingdao, at just 17 years old, and won his first Open World Championship at the age of 15 years old, and successfully defended the following year .

The significance of the announcement is the new, informal relationship between Emirates Team New Zealand and the sports national body, Yachting New Zealand, which has been lacking for many years.

At today's announcement, in the soon to be demolished Emirates Team New Zealand base, it was made clear by Managing Director that the organisation needed to grow and change.

'We came up short last time,' he said.'We have to develop, we want to bring in new talent, and where possible we want to bring in Kiwi talent - particularly into the sailing team. There's no better talent in the country at present, than Blair and Peter,' he added.

Dalton was quick to point out that Emirates Team New Zealand skipper, Dean Barker's no-show at the media session was due to the fact that Barker was still away with his family, up North, on holiday. Later he disclosed that Barker will be part of a new Executive group to take the major decisions within Emirates Team New Zealand, rather than all falling primarily on Dalton's shoulders, by design or default, as happened in the 34th America's Cup.

Key members of that group will be Dalton, Kevin Shoebridge (COO), Nick Holyrod (Head Designer), Glen Ashby (Sails), and Dan Bernasconi (Performance Analysis).

Shoebridge will take even more of a hands-on role in the organisation, with dalton stepping back into a Director's role, focussing on raising the funds for the campaign. Dalton says one of the mistakes that was made in San francisco was that the team closed into a 'very process focussed environment. We weren't able to respond quickly enough, because of that.'

'I've also got to take a good look at myself, too', he added. 'There is so much experience in the organisation that the way we make decisions needs to be a little bit smarter.'

It is expected that Barker will take on a joint Skipper and Sailing Director role, with the actual boat helmsman's position, and all others, being contested within the team by the joint AC45 program, starting in 2015.

So far 29 people have been retained on the team, there will be some additions and subtractions to that number - of which about seven team members are current sailors.

To date the Emirates Team New Zealand program has drawn heavily on the Lion Foundation Youth Program run by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, with young sailors going into the Youth program in their late teens, then going into the Match Racing circuit and then into the Volvo Ocean Race or America's Cup. Most notable of these is Adam Minoprio and his Black Match Racing team which went on to become World Match Racing Champions, currently there are four or five match racing teams competing internationally that have their genesis in the Lion Foundation program.

At today's announcement Dalton made it clear that the Team would look towards Yachting New Zealand's High Performance program to take up more of the talent development load, ensuring that the Team had a strong future from the two talent development streams.

From the YNZ's High Performance program perspective the relationship with Emirates Team New Zealand, the worlds most successful professional sailing team provides a clear and genuine talent development pathway right from Optimist level through to the America's Cup

'Since I have been involved with Team New Zealand, there has been quite a gap between the team and Yachting New Zealand, but now with the discussions we have had with (CEO) David Abercrombie, that relationship is drawing a lot closer. The relationship we have formed with these guys (Burling and Tuke) is a direct result of that stronger relationship with Yachting New Zealand. We want to continue with others of these guys calibre, over the next few months', he added.

Later, David Abercrombie, noted that the new relationship provided the means for Olympic sailors to make a living as professionals in the sport, extending their ability to stay in the sport - both in Olympic programs and other professional sailing events. A physiotherapist, Abercrombie himself was formerly with BMW Oracle Racing in its earlier America's Cup campaigns. He joined Yachting New Zealand in late 2011.

In terms of design and engineering talent, the team already has a strong relationship with University of Auckland's School of Engineering, and the Yacht Research Unit. With the availability of Prime Minister's Scholarships plus other educational funding there is a strong incentive for young sailors to pursue University education programs often in Engineering. Burling is about halfway through an engineering degree at Auckland. Most, if not all the NZL Sailing Team and others at a lower level are on sport-sponsored tertiary education programs.

While several sailors from the Yachting New Zealand Youth programs, under the tutelage of Harold Bennett, did go into successful America's Cup careers, notably Chris Dickson, Gavin Brady, Russell Coutts and other of the ilk of John Cutler and Dean Barker have been ISAF Youth Champions, those successes were almost 30 years ago, and today's announcement turns a corner for both Yachting New Zealand and Emirates Team New Zealand.

Later Dalton revealed that both Tuke and Burling had received offers from other America's Cup teams, but said they would have been 'nuts' to go offshore at this stage of their sailing careers.

All parties made it very clear that the 2016 Olympic campaign would remain the primary focus for the 49er World Champions and that the America's Cup commitments would be worked into both programs.

Other talent likely to be in the Emirates Team New Zealand viewfinder include runners up at the 2013 49er Worlds, Josh Porebski and Marcus Hansen, Will Tiller and the FMJ Racing team who finished second in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, top 470 crew Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox, other match racing teams including Waka Racing who sailed an AC45 for Team China in the last America's Cup World Series. There are also several well performed young Laser sailors and Finn sailors who are successfully combining match racing and Olympic programs. Dalton said they were 'talking to another couple of young guys, who are keen.'

Dalton also sees the imposition of a nationality rule, combined with the use of home-grown talent, as a good way of controlling costs in future America's Cup campaigns, as the negotiating power of sailors is somewhat reduced by preventing teams from importing top sailing talent.

Other countries likely to compete in the 2017 America's Cup such as Australian and Great Britain, have similar talent development and even more successful Olympic programs than New Zealand's and are likely to follow a similar path.

Dalton added that there had been several conversations with the Challenger of Record, and that he expected more Challengers for an America's Cup and that they would be of better quality than in the previous edition.

'We are pleased with the way the Challenger of Record (Hamilton Island YC) is acting. They are acting the way a Challenger of Record should be acting, not like a puppet that we have been dealing with for the last 10 years.'

Dalton expects Team New Zealand to bring in some new sponsors with a strong technology background, given the flavour that the America's Cup developed in San Francisco, particularly towards the end of the 2013 campaign.

He expects to see a draft Protocol in March 2014. 'We have a good idea of what will be in the Protocol, but that is not something that we can sell to sponsors at this stage. I don't expect to be back on the road to sponsors until April or May, However we have kept the waters more than warm with sponsors.'

Next mission for Burling and Tuke will be the 2014 A-Class Catamaran Worlds to be staged at Takapuna Beach, where they will compete against over 70 other competitors - including several new team-mates from Emirates Team New Zealand.

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