America's Cup-related sailing returns to New York for the first time in 96 years this weekend, and a crew of Kiwis would love to shine in the Big Apple.
A good showing in the America's Cup World Series regatta off the southern tip of Manhattan won't make up for the soul-crushing loss Emirates Team New Zealand suffered to Oracle Team USA in the 34th America's Cup on San Francisco Bay in 2013.
It would at least help build momentum leading to the next America's Cup, which will be sailed in Bermuda in 2017.
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The Kiwis come in atop the leaderboard in the series of warmup regattas and featuring two crewmembers who could be the faces of sailing at the Rio Olympics, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.
While the America's Cup World Series will be an adrenaline rush compared to the 1920 America's Cup, the last to be sailed off New York before it was moved to Newport, Rhode Island.
Back then, the America's Cup was sailed in big, classic yachts. The America's Cup World Series is an extreme sport on water, sailed in space-age, 45-foot catamarans that, if there's enough wind, rise up on hydrofoils and skim across the tops of the waves.
''It's definitely awesome to be here,'' Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby said in a phone interview. ''This is arguably one of the busiest cities in the world, and to sail in the ferry traffic and near the big buildings, the conditions will be shifty and interesting. As far as an iconic location to go sailing, we're very fortunate to be here. You have to pinch yourself, being from Down Under, to be sailing in front of the Statue of Liberty. It's pretty incredible.''
The America's Cup belonged to the New York Yacht Club for 132 years, until Dennis Conner lost it to Australia off Newport in 1983.
''It's absolutely amazing and that's one of the things to me personally that is special about the America's Cup is the actual history of the event,'' Ashby said. ''The fact that so much water has gone under the bridge, so to speak, in former times. It's nice to race around on largely different boats but at the end of the day, we're vying for the same trophy that's so prestigious. The really wonderful thing about our sport and the America's Cup itself is that it has lived on. Even though they are different boats, the prestige and level of completion is still there.''
Team New Zealand holds a slim lead over two-time America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA and England's Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing. The rest of the field is SoftBank Team Japan, Artemis Racing of Sweden and Groupama Team France.
The Kiwis haven't sailed together since an ACWS stop in Oman in late February.
They're back on U.S. waters for the first time since blowing a seven-race lead at match point against Oracle in the 2013 America's Cup. The American-based crew won the final eight races to pull off one of the biggest comebacks in sports.
''We've got effectively a whole new-look team,'' Ashby said. ''There's no history there for a lot of the guys. We're very much really looking forward to making amends for being so close back in San Francisco. It's absolutely pedal to the metal at the moment to prepare for next year.''
Rejoining the team are Burling, the helmsman, and Tuke, a trimmer. They have won 26 straight regattas in the 49er class since taking the silver medal at the London Olympics.
''We're really happy with the way we're going in the 49er,'' Burling said. ''We've been putting a lot of hard work on that side, and there's going to be a lot hard work in the next couple of months.''
There will be another ACWS stop in mid-June in Chicago. The Olympics are in August.
Burling and Tuke finished second in London behind Australians Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, who sail for Artemis Racing.
''The main goal for us since we started competing, is to go to Rio and try to get the gold medal,'' Burling said. ''We really want to win. We're really happy to get that kind of record on the way. We're going to push as hard as we can to keep winning and keep improving so we'll have the best shot to win.''
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