Chinese crew prepares to make bigger global waves

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China SailGP Team helmsman Phil Robertson (center) is flanked by the championship's CEO, Russell Coutts (left), team principal Bruno Dubois and six other crew members.

The SailGP championship on Tuesday unveiled the fifth team in its new global racing league with a bold ambition to drive the growth of the sport in China.

The China SailGP Team will begin its campaign in February featuring some of the world's leading sailors as well as a core of Chinese talent-'Black' Liu Xue, 'Horace' Chen Jinhao and 'Leo' Liu Ming, who were all part of the Dongfeng Race Team's much-lauded Volvo Ocean Race victory in 2018.

The crew's F50 catamaran will be helmed by decorated New Zealander Phil Robertson, who will lead the fight against Australia, France, Britain, Japan and the United States in the battle for a $1 million first prize.

Olympians James Wierzbowski of Australia and Thomas Le Breton from France, plus Britain's Ed Powys, complete the seven-man roster.

"We think China's potential in top-level international sailing is limitless, from the size of the fanbase to the commercial market, and-most importantly-to the talent out on the water," said SailGP CEO Russell Coutts.

"For SailGP, it was always a big priority to have a Chinese team that could be competitive in season one while jumpstarting the long-term pipeline of homegrown talent here.

"The China SailGP Team has the skill and the experience to do exactly that, starting in Sydney in February."

After the opener in Australia, the competition moves to San Francisco, New York, Britain's Isle of Wight and Marseille in France. All will be inshore, with teams racing identical wing-sailed F50s, the world's fastest catamarans which can break the 50-knot (60 mph) barrier.

"SailGP has the potential to be the Formula One of sailing," said team principal Bruno Dubois.

"This is an incredible development opportunity for the sport of sailing in China. Within the team, we've had a lot of success with the cross-culture team model in China.

"Most of our crew has experience with a China-based team-either China One Ningbo for the World Match Racing Tour or the Dongfeng Race Team for the Volvo Ocean Race. We are fully committed to continuing this development of high-performance sailing in China.

"We're not only looking to develop sailors, but also recruit Chinese shore team members, engineers and designers for the SailGP design team.

"This is a nation-versus-nation competition. This will be a full Chinese team one day."

For now, the China franchise has a 40 percent homegrown requirement, which will increase by 20 percent each season.

Eventually, every team will be fully comprised of athletes native to the country they are representing.

"I've represented world-class teams before, but nothing has come close to this SailGP project when it comes to long-term ambition," said China's helmsman Robertson, who has been a regular fixture on the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) podium since his debut in 2009.

"We are looking to the future, but make no mistake: we're here to compete from race-day one," added Robertson, who won a WMRT championship in 2016.

"We just came off a fantastic couple weeks on the F50 in New Zealand, which made us even more excited for what's to come next year."

From season two, SailGP will roll out legacy programs in each team market to provide development opportunities to young sailors via schools and yacht clubs.

"SailGP is a huge opportunity to increase China's presence in elite-level sailing," said China SailGP grinder Liu.

"We've had some successes on the international stage already, but this multi-race international format will help us build really strong connections with fans and hopefully inspire the next generation of young sailors out there.

"SailGP is going to create pathways and opportunities for talented young athletes that didn't exist before."

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