The Americas’ Cup is no stranger to powerhouse rowers adding their heft to grinding teams. Rowers all can see a lot of cross-over in the two sports, particularly in the teamwork and communication required between the athletes and the team members. With the competition in sight for 2024, the six competing teams are already training on the water in Barcelona, Spain – and 10 former international rowers (so far) will be in the mix for the the oldest trophy in international sport.
The most famous is certainly three-time Olympic Champion, Hamish Bond, who recently joined Emirates Team New Zealand. Bond won gold at the Tokyo Olympics in the Men’s Eight, bringing to a close a rowing career that has made him one of the most successful athletes in the sport. His career also included a stint in cycling, achieving a Commonwealth Games bronze medal. So it was not surprising that the America’s Cup Team New Zealand talent scouts came knocking on his door.
“They’d been out canvassing the nation for certain people,” says Bond. “They were after a unique type of athlete that fits the profile they wanted.”
The racing yachts use ‘cyclors’ – fixed bikes – instead of the traditional arm-propelled grinders to raise and lower the sails. Bond’s athletic profile turns out to be an ideal match. The role demands someone who has the endurance to keep going though the sailing race which lasts about half an hour and also have short, 30 second, bursts of maximum power. “Cyclists may be strong power to weight, but it also needs a big person that’s aerobically trained. They need the raw power numbers,” says Bond who did mainly weights and indoor training on the bike to prepare himself for the trials. “Trials wasn’t easy. Everything was maximal.”
Based in Durham, North Carolina, USA where his wife, Lizzy, is pursuing a fellowship at Duke University, Bond fitted training around raising their three young kids and some volunteer coaching. Now on the team, Bond has workouts that are provided to the whole team.
“It’s not dissimilar to what I’ve been doing in preparation,” says Bond. He sees the experience as having parallels with rowing – following a training programme, being consistent and then the by-product is a consequence of what you do in training. There’s also the team dynamic, working with other people and getting the best out of the team. “Knowing that the team is larger than the individual.”
Bond describes the AC75 boat as a Formula 1 on the water. The America’s Cup boats, like Formula 1 cars, are engineered to work at the maximum possible speed. There’s endless testing and data collection to check the boat’s reaction to every scenario.
The boat uses foils so Bond won’t have to practice cycling on a lean. “The boat will be on an even keep no matter which way its going and will maintain a grip on the water,” says Bond. But the speed the boat will travel at – with foils it can be at speeds of around 50 knots (about 100km per hour) – brings with it lots of necessary safety training.
After Durham, Bond will head to the team’s base in Auckland, New Zealand before going to Barcelona in 2024 where the America’s Cup will take place in October.
Fellow New Zealand rower Cam Webster (Under 19 and Under 23 World Champion) is also joining the team which follows a tradition of using rowers as grinders and now cyclors. Webster and Bond follow in the footsteps of New Zealand Olympic Champions in rowing Rob Waddell and Joseph Sullivan.
One of the main challengers of the defending champions of New Zealand, will be former winners Alinghi Red Bull Racing of Switzerland. A team that will feature no less than three former Swiss rowing Olympians : Barnabé Delarze, Nico Stahlberg and Augustin Maillefer.
Maillefer is a newcomer to sailing, but he has plenty of experience being on the water, as he competed in the men’s quadruple sculls at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Joining Alinghi Red Bull Racing is Augustin’s first role in a sailing team, but he’s ready for what’s ahead – including competing with former teammates Stahlberg and Delarze, the golden combination for the Swiss rowing team at the 2013 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Linz, Austria.
Maillefer left the national team in 2020 but was still involved in rowing – mainly as a coach in Vevey, when he was contacted. “I felt very privileged, says Maillefer. I was retired from international rowing and wasn’t expecting to be called, so I was really happy when I was contacted.” He remembers “waking up at night 20 years ago to watch the races when Alinghi won its first Americas’ Cup in New Zealand. I remember the party in Geneva when the sailors came back with the Cup. This is the objective for 2024, doing the same thing”.
Maillefer will be part of the power group. “It’s a unique challenge that allows me to put my physical skills at the service of the team,” he said, adding: “I enjoy being surrounded by fully committed people seeking for excellence whilst collaborating with each other. It’s what motivates me.” The power group will include some familiar faces for Maillefer – especially Delarze, with both rowers coming from the same club in Lausanne. “We have a common background, a lot in common, I am really looking forward to seeing how it will work in the boat. The atmosphere in the whole team is great and we really want to win it.”
The 37th America’s Cup will take place between August and October 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. Located around Port Vell and out along the beach to Port Olympic, the sailing world has made Barcelona their home for what promises to be one of the most intense America’s Cups in the event’s 174-year history. The holders of the America’s Cup are Emirates Team New Zealand representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, but some strong competition is coming for them. INEOS Britannia, the ‘Challenger of Record’ from the United Kingdom, are in charge of the Selection Series to decide who will race against New Zealand for the trophy. The unique format of the Cup sees the Defender of the trophy automatically entitled to race in the final ‘Match’ whereas the Challengers will undertake a series to find the top yacht to take on the New Zealand team. Confirmed entries are: Alinghi Red Bull Racing from Switzerland, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli from Italy, American Magic New York Yacht Club from the USA and K-Challenge from France.
Team Ineos Britannia : Harry Leask, Matt Rossiter, Matt Gotrel
Emirates Team New Zealand : Hamish Bond, Cameron Webster
Alinghi Red Bull Racing : Nico Stahlberg, Augustin Maillefer, Barnabé Delarze
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team : Bruno Rosetti, Emanuele Liuzzi
Photos thanks to Alinghi Red Bull Racing Team