Right now, San Francisco is hosting the 34th America's Cup, the premier sailing competition in the world and one of the all-time great events in sports history. Typically, seasoned sailors in peak physical condition make up the crews of the America's Cup teams. But for the first time, young sailors got in on the action.
The inaugural Red Bull Youth America's Cup featured 10 teams from eight countries, each with six team members aged 19-24, racing in the same boats (wing-sailed AC45 catamarans) that their older counterparts compete in. And last week, the NZL Sailing Team with Emirates Team New Zealand, from New Zealand, sailed away with the victory. Full Metal Jacket Racing, also from New Zealand, finished second, followed by ROFF/Cascais Sailing Team from Portugal in third. The American Youth Sailing Force finished in fifth place.
"It's been amazing to actually take the win," New Zealand Sailing Team captain Peter Burling said. "We got a lot better during the racing. It's amazing to take the win and quite humbling to do it under the Emirates Team New Zealand banner."
Burling's countryman and rival Will Tiller, captain of the Full Metal Jacket team, added that the competition was "exciting. It's wet, fast, and fun. There's so much work that has to happen behind the scenes to get to this point. We've had to put together everything ourselves, to be self-sufficient. So we're very proud to get this close to the top."
Check out some video of the intense competition these young sailors were a part of:
"The sailors are taking a lot out of this, whether they finished first or in tenth," Hans-Peter Steinacher said. He's an Olympic gold medalist and co-Sport Director of the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, along with sailing partner Roman Hagara. "They've seen the the way the professionals at the America's Cup operate, and I think they've all learned so much about what it takes to succeed at the highest level of our sport."
The America's Cup is basically the World Cup of sailing: National teams from around the world race special boats, called catamarans, at more than 30 mph in an intense series of competitions around the world. The first leg is the AC World Series, which takes place over two years. Then teams compete in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series, which sets the field for the America's Cup. To win the America's Cup, the oldest trophy in professional sports, a team must win nine points by winning nine races.
This year, the teams vying for the Cup are defending champions Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand. The final rounds of racing began on Saturday, with Oracle Team USA starting with -2 points and without wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder. It was given this harsh penalty, the harshest in the 162-year history of the America's Cup, because an international jury ruled that the team had illegally modified prototype boats it used in warm-up races in 2012 and 2013.
What all this means is that the US team has to win 11 races to hold on to the Cup. Every other team only has to win nine. As of this afternoon, New Zealand is leading with three wins while the US has one victory. The next races will be held tomorrow.
Photos: Courtesy Red Bull Sailing