Life After The America's Cup 

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The British Star boys’ hunt to win back-to-back Olympic golds is underway in earnest and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson couldn’t be more pleased.  

Simpson and Iain Percy, alongside Skandia Team GBR Finn star Ben Ainslie, have spent the past two years campaigning for the next America’s Cup with TEAMORIGIN, with little time to commit to their 2012 Star glory mission.  

But after the disappointing news that TEAMORIGIN were withdrawing from the 2013 America’s Cup event, citing concerns over finance and whether the cup would be truly competitive, the reigning Olympic Star champions have been able to refocus all their energies on 2012 and are looking forward to returning as regulars to the Olympic Classes circuit next year.  

Bart explains: “When we heard the America’s Cup was going to be held in 2013 we were facing some very difficult decisions because to do both an America’s Cup and an Olympic campaign properly would have been a big ask.  

“Our plan was always to focus on the Star in 2011 in preparation for London 2012, with provisional arrangements to go Star sailing this winter, then do a bit of America’s Cup stuff and try to balance the two as best we could. Now we can plan full on for the Olympics and having that clarity makes things so much easier. Suddenly we know exactly where we’re going, which is massive.  

“It was disappointing to withdraw from the America’s Cup as we felt by the end we had a good team in place both on the boat and off-the-water and I’m pretty confident we could have made the final. But with the decisions that were made on the format for the 2013 Cup, and with some key decisions still to be made, the short timescales would have made it very difficult to have beaten BMW Oracle. We were never in the Cup just to take part, we wanted to win it, so I can completely understand why Sir Keith Mills (TEAMORGIN Principal) made the call not to continue.”  

Percy and Simpson tasted Star regatta action twice this year, firstly impressively claiming the World title in Rio in January, despite having just two blocks of 10 days’ training under their belts beforehand, while in August they finished seventh at Skandia Sail for Gold where equipment problems blighted their first two days’ of racing.  

Bart, who also became a first time dad to Freddie at the end of June, admits the pair’s performance in Rio gave them confidence that they were able to produce results even when their preparations had been less than ideal. Skandia Sail for Gold, however, proved a bit of a timely wake-up call.  

Now, with just 2012 to focus on, they are relishing getting back into prime Star sailing shape over this winter and, with their coaches, giving their full attention to the technical aspects of the boat.  

“Sail for Gold wasn’t great,” Bart continues. “TEAMORIGIN had competed for the 1851 Cup against BMW Oracle at Cowes Week the week before and with Freddie arriving in June I was very, very tired. We had done a lot of sailing but not Star sailing and with the problems we had with our equipment, it was a good thing for us to realise how  that level of preparation was far from ideal.     

“We’ve just done two blocks of Star training at Weymouth and Portland and it was great being back in the boat. In terms of boat development, there isn’t a massive amount we can do. We did a huge amount of work developing a boat with Juan Kouyoumdjian in the last Beijing cycle and that design has pretty much become standard now so it is more about getting ourselves in the right shape.  

“We’ve been a bit light for the Star this year. I’ve been at around 97kgs for TEAMORIGIN’s TP52 racing and for the Star I’m normally up at 104kgs; that’s about a stone’s difference. I’ve already managed to put that weight on but now it’s a case of getting stronger and working hard on my aerobic strength specifically for the Star.  

“We’re still working with David ‘Sid’ Howlett as a technical adviser with Nick Harrison our primary coach. Adam May is also helping us out a lot and he’s fantastic. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of experience and support behind us.”  

With the spotlight very much increasing on Weymouth and Portland, Percy and Simpson plan to spend January and February training in Portugal before returning to competitive action, probably at the Palma Olympic Classes Regatta in April. They did consider brushing off the cobwebs at the Rolex Miami Regatta in January but decided the costs and the fact the conditions would be so different to Weymouth and Portland meant it would add little value to their long-term Olympic objectives.  

Home ‘advantage’ is widely-regarded as a given to the outside world and there is a perception that Britain’s sailors’ familiarity with the waters off South Dorset will stand them in the best stead by the time London 2012 comes around. Bart, however, admits there are a few hurdles to overcome first.  

“One of the biggest things for us is starting to think about Weymouth and Portland as the Olympic venue, not just somewhere we train. Your mentally towards the place has to change and you have to view it in a different light.  

“When you compete abroad it’s easy to sustain a focus as you’re just there to sail. But with the Games being at home there are so many other distractions you have to balance, like seeing friends and family and sponsor commitments. It’s very difficult to shut yourself off from all that and focus solely on sailing. At the moment it doesn’t feel like a bonus the Olympics being at Weymouth and Portland and that’s something we have to work on.”  

Bart insists, though, that the pair don’t feel like they are playing catch-up in their 2012 preparations and that their sabbatical from the Star has kept them hungry to once again master the Olympic fleet.  

He adds: “We train differently now than when we were younger. We both have different responsibilities and commitments outside of sailing, which means when we train the quality and our focus is really high because it has to be.  

“Doing a four-year campaign is a long, hard slog at times and you almost have to go through that to become experienced enough to know how you train best. It’s not just about getting out there and going sailing; as we’ve got older our training has become more focussed. If I trained as effectively at 21 as I train now, I’d be really good!”