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Rumbles From Down Under: Australia’s America’s Cup Push

The 35th America’s Cup Challenger of Record wastes no time in tapping its best Olympian to lead the charge.

June 20, 2014

More than 30 years have passed since Australia II‘s remarkable upset in the 1983 Cup off Newport, R.I., where John Bertrand and crew ended the New York YC’s 132-year winning streak and opened the Cup to global interest. And nearly 20 years have passed since Australia’s last effort in the Cup, oneAustralia, sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean off San Diego in March 1995.

Australia hasn’t fielded a competitive effort since then, but there is certainly no lack of talent. Australian native Jimmy Spithill, who led Young Australia in 1999-2000 is the reigning two-time America’s Cup champion for Oracle Team USA. In the Olympics, three Aussie skippers, Mat Belcher, Nathan Outteridge, and Tom Slingsby, are the reigning gold medalists in the 470, 49er, and Laser classes, respectively. Additionally, Belcher and Slingsby have won two of the past four Rolex ISAF World Sailor of the Year awards. This abundance of homegrown talent is what led Bob Oatley to launch Team Australia.

“The Oatleys are immensely proud Aussies,” says syndicate head Iain Murray, Regatta Director for the 34th America’s Cup. “They very much want to see the obvious talent and skills associated with sailing in this country work for Australia. They’ve been happy to see the successes of young Aussies through other teams, and they think that Australia should be showing itself off and should be doing it with these young sailors. They’ve said it’s time that Australia did something about it.” They’ll now do it with Belcher.

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Spithill, Slingsby, and Outteridge are aligned with other teams, but the 31-year-old Belcher, from Australia’s Gold Coast, is as talented as any of them, just a bit more under the radar. His fourth consecutive 470 World Championship victory last year was his 17th consecutive win in the two-person dinghy, a run that began in 2011.

“Mat’s an amazing character. His success in the Olympic sport of yachting is truly outstanding,” says Murray. “That doesn’t come by any fluke. His attention to detail and insight to sport and determination is on a level I’ve never seen before. I’ve never seen focus and maturity in someone of his age.”

Those are heady words from Murray, who’s been in the Cup game since 1983, but Belcher might be the right man at the right time. The next America’s Cup catamaran is expected to measure 60 to 65 feet LOA, making it less of a challenge to handle than the wild AC72.

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Belcher got his first taste of America’s Cup catamaran racing when he led Team Australia against Oracle Team USA in a two-week tuning session in Sydney on AC45s.

“He’s confident,” says Murray. “His communication skills are unbelievable. He’s very up front, honest, and detailed. I think he’s going to be a good leader.”

America's Cup Contender Team Australia

America’s Cup Contender Team Australia

Team Australia, with newly annointed skipper and Men’s Olympic 470 gold medalist Mat Belcher (at right) on the tiller pairs up with Oracle Team USA’s AC45 squad on Sydney Harbor in March 2014. Team Australia/Andrea Francolini
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