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Olympians flying through Sydney Harbour at SailGP

7 February 2019

SAILING: Imagine soaring one metre above the waters of Sydney Harbour in a F50 catamaran at 50knots (100km/hour), where 100cm of fly height is all that’s between you practically flying or coming crashing down.

That is what athletes will experience as part of the innovative new sailing series, SailGP, making its debut in Sydney on February 15.

Powered by a 24-metre wingsail and flying above the water on hydrofoils at up to 50knots, six teams from six countries will navigate around iconic Sydney landmarks, and the pedigree of Team Australia have them picked as hot favourites for the inaugural event.

The Team will be led by dual laser Olympian and 2012 Olympic Champion Tom Slingsby, who is also an eight-time world champion and America’s Cup winner.

34-year-old Slingsby said that while it’s a “huge honour” to skipper the Australian Team, it’s definitely a nerve-wracking experience trying to tame one of the fastest catamarans in the world.

“It’s a bit of a cross between sailing and flying, these boats go so fast and the noise that the sails make sound a bit like a jet engine,” Slingsby said.

“You’re trying to control the flight of the boat and make sure you don’t crash into the water, but if you go too high, you also crash.

“You have about one-metre fly height where you’re safe, so as a skipper I have to control the boat, keep it in that one-metre zone and the nerves definitely go up the faster you go.”

Jason Waterhouse, Kyle Langford, Tom Slingsby, Sam Newton and Ky Hurst pose during a SailGP media opportunity at Water at Pier One on October 15, 2018 in Sydney, Australia

Slingsby will be joined in the boat by Rio 2016 Olympic Nacra silver medallist Jason Waterhouse, and dual Olympic swimmer Ky Hurst. Plus, experienced Aussie sailors Kyle Langford and Sam Newton round out the team of five.

Waterhouse is fresh off a World Cup gold medal, which he won last weekend with his cousin and fellow Olympic sailing partner Lisa Darmanin in the Nacra 17 in Miami, Florida.

The 27-year-old barely had time to get over the jet-lag before he was straight out on the water with the new Team in Sydney Harbour. Waterhouse is aiming for a second Olympic experience at Tokyo 2020, and said his skills are improving across the different classes.

“In terms of the two boats, in some ways they’re very similar and in some ways they’re different,” Waterhouse said

“I like the fact I can improve my skills on both boats and sometimes those skills cross over to the other discipline, and that’s why I was really excited to join the team and I’m looking forward to racing in Sydney, just two weeks after Miami.”

Waterhouse said racing the F50s are “not all too dissimilar to racing the Nacra,” but going from open water swimming to sailing catamarans was a big change of scenery for his teammate Hurst.

34-year-old Hurst has 10 Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships to his name, along with four Australian Ironman titles and two Olympic Games, having competed in the 10km Open Water swim at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Following his Olympic career, it was Hurst who approached skipper Slingsby and said he wanted to try his hand at sailing.

The pair first crossed paths at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, Hurst as a member of the Swimming Team, and Slingsby an individual athlete in the Laser class.

“I didn’t actually meet him at the time, but we were in the tunnel together about to walk out into the Opening Ceremony at London 2012 and I saw him there and recognised him from the front of the Nutri-Grain cereal box,” Slingsby said of Hurst.

“It was a few years later when we met each other and got him into sailing. Ky approached me to say he’s been sailing his whole life and had also been an individual athlete his whole life, but would love to be part of a team.

“He’s a freak athlete and we’re very lucky to have him in our sailing team. He’s a great sailor as well as being a machine on the water.”

Making the move from an individual sport to a team sport had been a goal of Hurst’s for some time. The duo first competed together as part of Oracle Team USA at the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda.

“Transferring from an individual athlete to a team environment, was what I really wanted, I’d been chasing it for many years,” he said.

“It’s really funny to look back at when we met in 2012 and where we are today. Being on board and working with these guys is a dream come true. We’re all mates which is really good, because a successful team at the end of the day is a tight team and we’re certainly that.”

The Aussies will take on Great Britain, USA, France, China and Japan across the six-race series around the world. While facing their rivals from other nations, they will also come up against fellow Aussie Olympians, including Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jenson who are members of Team Japan.

The SailGP Sydney event will take place on Friday 15 from 4pm-6pm and Saturday 16 February from 3pm-5pm, 2019. Each national team will compete in fleet races, culminating with the top two teams racing for a place on the winner’s podium in a match race on Saturday afternoon.

More available on the event and how to watch is available HERE.

Georgia Thompson

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