China's bid to rule the waves in the America's Cup has a secret weapon - veteran basketball player Ma Jian.
The former LA Clippers rear guard is among the Team China crew during the event's preparatory World Series in Plymouth, southern England, which ends today.
He admitted he was struggling to find his sea legs. 'I am a basketball player, not a sailor. I may have the athletic strength and the mental discipline required but I am a novice to sailing and therefore need to learn everything,' he said.
Ma joined the professional sailors assembled by mainland billionaire Wang Chaoyong, who is bankrolling a multimillion-dollar venture to pin the Chinese flag onto the oldest sporting event in the world.
The steady progress of the Chinese has impressed sailing powerhouses Spain, the US, France and New Zealand, who are among the nine-strong fleet. 'The Chinese have a long-term success strategy and are planning a path to build their challenge in the America's Cup over the next 10 years,' said Richard Worth, the chairman of the America's Cup Event Authority.
Today will see the culmination of the match-racing championship where pairs of boats - including Team Korea sailed by a British crew - go head to head in a winner-takes-all showdown.
The World Series has been added to the America's Cup to build the sport's profile. State-of-the-art one-design catamarans replaced traditional monohull yachts last year to make racing more exciting.
The teams will take part in the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination series for a chance to challenge current holder the US in the 34th America's Cup final in San Francisco in 2013.