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Rocky seas ahead

By Tang Zhe and Xie Chuanjiao (China Daily)

10:10, June 09, 2013

Xu Lijia, China’s first Olympic sailing champion in the women’s laser radial, races in the America’s Cup World Series in Naples, Italy in April.( Photo/China Daily)

It was a one-in-a-million chance for Qingdao sailor Zhang Yiran to race alongside the world's elite sailors.

Zhang, who joined the Shandong provincial sailing team in 2006, said Chinese sailors rarely have chances to compete overseas, and struggle to improve because good instruction is hard to come by.

A recruitment notice from the China Team, a challenger for the America's Cup, changed the career of the young mariner. And just a few months later, Zhang was racing with Olympic champions and sailing icons in Naples, Italy in April.

When the China Team was founded in 2005 to challenge for the America's Cup, the crew members and managing staff were all foreigners.

To develop domestic sailors and sport specialists, a Chinese management team took over the squad last June. It began recruiting in November to prepare for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup selection series in February, which requires crews to be aged 18-25 and from the team's home country.

Liu Xue, 20, Wen Zijin, 25, and Zhang joined Cheng Ying-kit, who made his China Team debut last year.

However, the team struggled to find a qualified domestic skipper and decided to postpone its plan to compete in the youth cup, then hired Australian skipper Mitch Booth to instruct the young sailors.

The 50-year-old has two Olympic medals in Tornado class, 11 World Championships and America's Cup experience, and has been involved in many sailing related activities, including the co-creation of the Extreme 40 boat.

"All the crews must be Chinese in the youth cup, but we can't create a qualified Chinese skipper instantly, because it is rich sailing experience that establishes a skipper. Therefore, we postponed our youth cup schedule to next year," said Fang Yuwen, managing director of the China Team.

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