China come up short but leave legacy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am

The China Team ended their run as a challenger to compete in the 32nd America's Cup after three weeks of competition and two years of preparation, netting only one win on the scoreboard out of 20 races. That one win came on May 1 during the Louis Vuitton Round Robin series against the top challenger BMW Oracle who had torn a headsail just after the start of the match race.

Altogether, seven international teams were eliminated this week and the remaining four teams will advance to the Louis Vuitton semi-finals starting today. While the China Team's disappointment is palpable, this was an unprecedented effort using Chinese brawn and money that leaves a legacy and may well create a sailing dynasty for China at future international events.

'We are proud of what we have been able to do and it takes so much work and so much energy to be a part of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series,' said China Team skipper Pierre Mas. 'It has been frustrating at such a highly charged event that we did not win more races but at this level it is the addition of the small things that these veteran teams have that makes a huge difference.'

The China Team's roster of sailors included five young mainland Chinese men with no prior Cup experience. America's Cup rules dictate that the boat used in competition be built in the home country, so Chinese builders and French designers learned quickly how to produce an International America's Cup Class boat. The new boat arrived in Valencia in late March which left the team with little time to test it. The budget dictated that a large inventory of gear, sails or manpower were a luxury the team could not afford.

'We are a small team and we were so small that it was devastating if a crew member was injured as we did not have an actual rotation of players like the bigger teams,' said Wearn Haw Tan, a Singapore native and the team's navigator.

While the interest in Cup racing is growing in China, it was that one win against the American team on May 1 that sparked the most interest in this event to date.

'The win over the US made headlines all over China and southeast Asia,' Tan said. 'It was as if we had won the America's Cup.'

The idea of a Chinese challenge for the America's Cup began when syndicate leader and president of China Equity Investment Wang Chaoyong caught the sailing bug during a Louis Vuitton Act - the precursor to the Louis Vuitton Cup - in Marseille in 2005 and a joint venture was formed with a French team called Le Defi.

'There were a total of eight mainland Chinese sailors who had never seen this kind of racing before and it was a big eye-opener and we were all thrown in together at the deep end,' said Tan, who will stay in Europe this summer to join a professional match racing circuit.

'We are all still afloat, and the team will bring a whole wealth of experience back to China. We just hope we all get another chance to sail together as a team again,' he said.