Asia made its first foray into the America’s Cup in 1992, when then regional powerhouse Japan made a convincing debut in an event dominated for decades by the US.
Now China and South Korea are taking the helm as the region’s challengers for the 34th edition of the oldest trophy in international sport, in a sign of Asia’s growing passion for all things yachting.
Having already competed in the 33rd edition of the America’s Cup in 2007, China will be hoping to improve on their last performance when the catamaran race is held in San Francisco in 2013.
China, which has in recent years seen marinas springing up along its southern coast especially, is also contesting the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time this year, starting in Alicante, Spain, in October.
Team Korea also figures among the eight challengers so far named for the America’s Cup, the first South Korean boat ever to enter the race.
As in 2007, the Chinese challenge is headed by financier Wang Chaoyong, 46.
“Since the beginning, the Cup has been a kind of dream for him, he has a vision,” said Thierry Barot, the French CEO of Team China, himself a Cup veteran and semi-finalist of the Louis Vuitton Cup in 1987 in Perth, Australia.
“We very quickly won support from the Chinese authorities,” Barot said. “Sailing is rapidly -developing in China, and after China won three medals in yachting at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it became an event considered as a potentially rich source of medals and therefore it had to be supported.”
“We started out with a draft budget of 35 million euros [US$49 million], which may be reduced because costs are lower in China,” added Barot, whose experience with multihulls includes a win in The Race in 2000 in the catamaran Club Med.
Team China, which will also take part next month in the first stage of the America’s Cup World Series in Cascais, Portugal, has signed up Australian Tornado specialist Mitch Booth as its sports director.
Among the team’s recruits are American Charlie Ogletree, who competed in the 2008 Olympics.
“We are also going to recruit a group of 50 Chinese sailors, the best of whom will go to San Francisco. The aim is to have seven Chinese yachtsmen out of the 11 who will sail the AC72,” Barot said.
The team’s technical management has been entrusted to French naval architect Yann Dabadie and the yacht will be built by the McConaghy yard in Zhuhai, southern China.
Team Korea, which was -unveiled last week in Seoul, has chosen Britain’s Chris Draper, 33, a bronze-medal winner at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 49’er class event, as its skipper.
“I am very proud to have helped create a new chapter for the sport and in the history of the America’s Cup,” Team Korea’s founder Kim Dong-young said last week as South Korea became only the 15th nation to join the competition.
“We need a lot of support, from the construction of yachts to the sponsoring for tours,” he said.
Both China and South Korea are hoping to host races next year in the America’s Cup World Series, which involves smaller AC45 catamarans, as they try to meet a -growing public appetite for the sport.
The Americas Cup features 22m AC72 catamarans and will be held between Sept. 7 and Sept. 22 next year in San Francisco.
Who gets to challenge US defender Oracle Racing in the race is decided by the Louis Vuitton Cup, which is held on the same stretch of water between July 4 and Sept. 1.
Besides China and South Korea, teams from New Zealand, Sweden, Italy, Spain and two from France have so far announced challenges for the 2013 Cup trophy.
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