Bermuda’s Red Bull Youth America’s Cup Sailors Are The Story Of The Summer
A group of young athletes from the small island of Bermuda have defied the odds in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup. They won the hearts of their country in the Qualifiers, and when the Finals play out on 20th and 21st June, the whole world may be under their spell.
Eighteen months ago, it was unthinkable.
As the host of the 35th America’s Cup, Bermuda was invited to field a team in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, a competition for sailors aged 18 to 24. Yet what were the chances for a team from an island of 65,000 people against powerhouse nations like the United States and New Zealand?
However, in the initial Qualifier race, TeamBDA went from zero to hero, holding their own with the best youth sailors on the planet. Bermudians flocked to watch, and after two days of racing across the Great Sound, the home team clinched fourth place in the Qualifiers to earn a berth in the Finals – eliminating entries from the USA and Austria in the process.
“Everything went crazy. The crowd went nuts, and the feeling that we accomplished the first of our goals really hit me,” says 22-year-old TeamBDA sailor Owen Siese.
TeamBDA is a fairytale story, bit the team have achieved their first goal through hard work and talent. TeamBDA earned podium positions in fully half of their Qualifier races and have sparked talk of the great Cinderella stories of all time, like Boris Becker’s Wimbledon win at age 17, or the South African rugby team’s home triumph in the 1995 World Cup.
Jimmy Spithill, skipper and helmsman of defending America’s Cup winner ORACLE TEAM USA, says, “The team put themselves in the Finals through hard work and talent, and that’s a great story in itself; but when you add in the fact that some of the team weren’t even sailors until recently, then it becomes truly special.”
It all started in August 2015 when a call went out for athletes. Mustafa Ingham grew up playing football in Hamilton Parish. Philip Hagen had been a member of the national swimming team. Shomari Warner’s focus had been boxing and rugby, and Danny Pell was a rugby player, too.
They didn’t know boats, but they knew how to train, and coaches saw that they had the power to manage the AC45F foiling catamaran, a massive beast that can fly at speeds reaching nearly 40mph/65kmh.
After a grueling selection process, Ingham, Hagen, Warner and Pell made the cut. “Making it from something like 150 candidates down to the final nine was a pretty huge milestone,” Warner acknowledges.
Also named to the team were Mackenzie Cooper, Peter Dill, Owen Siese, Dimitri Stevens and Cecilia Wollman. All did have sailing experience, albeit on dinghies and single-hull yachts. Wollman, now 19, was the youngest athlete to represent Bermuda at the 2016 Olympics.
Finally, in May 2017, Stevens, Siese, Ingham, Cooper, Dill and Hagan were selected for the six-hand AC45F, with Pell on reserve and the rest of the team supporting from shore. The appointment of Stevens as helmsman and Ingham as wing grinder marks the first time two black sailors have been featured in key positions in the regatta.
“I feel that Bermuda has come together as a country to support a team that didn’t look to have much going for it at the start of this event,” says Ingham. “And our passion and effort have shown the level at which all of us on TeamBDA are able to compete.”
Red Bull Youth America’s Cup Sport Directors Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher are themselves unlikely sailing legends as two-time Olympic Gold Medalists from landlocked Austria. Hagara comments, “Sailing a big boat requires strong teamwork, and these sailors have really learned to work together in challenging situations. They’ve put their heart and soul into this.”
It’s not just the athletes who have pulled together, but their families too.
“My family have given up so much so that I can succeed, I cannot thank them enough,” states Pell, while Warner shares, “My family is extremely proud. It’s a huge accomplishment not only for me but for them too. Not a lot of people will understand how much this really means to us.”
Many sailors from the inaugural Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in 2013 now hold prominent positions on America’s Cup boats, like Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling. Participation in the youth regatta is a chance to be noticed by the top professional teams in the sport.
Grant Simmer, the General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of ORACLE TEAM USA, comments, “We’ve seen the members of TeamBDA develop and grow, and to see them grab the opportunity so firmly is really pretty inspirational. The Red Bull Youth America’s Cup is only one step of competition away from the America’s Cup itself, so it is clearly a highly competitive, tough environment. That makes TeamBDA’s achievements all the more praiseworthy and they should be incredibly proud of what they have accomplished.”
In the Finals on Tuesday and Wednesday, Team BDA will take on defending champions New Zealand as well as Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, France, Great Britain and Spain.
“We didn’t perform our best in the Qualifiers and still made it through,” Stevens points out. “That gives me hope that if we perform up to our potential, we can do well in the Finals.”
TeamBDA now has the hopes and dreams of Bermuda on their young shoulders, and the whole world will be watching as the Finals are broadcast live on Red Bull TV. But the wave of enthusiasm – especially from their local fans – also boosts them.
“The support has been overwhelming. No matter what happens on the race course the people of Bermuda continue to cheer us on, and that really keeps us going,” declares Cooper, the team’s skipper.
Stevens describes, “It’s great to hear all of the cheering and horns, especially when we go close to the boundary or pass a boat. It’s unlike anything I have experienced.”
And Wollman says simply, “It makes me proud to be Bermudian.”
Find out whether the Cinderella story will have a fairytale ending. Watch the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup Finals, live on Red Bull TV on June 20 and 21 at 2:00pm local Bermuda time/5:00pm UTC.
Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. For a full list of supported devices visit this page.
Red Bull Youth America’s Cup media hub here: www.redbullsailingnewsroom.com