America's Cup: Unlikely duo do the leg work for triumphant Team New Zealand

From track cycling to sailing, Simon van Velthooven has added the America's Cup to his long list of track accolades.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

From track cycling to sailing, Simon van Velthooven has added the America's Cup to his long list of track accolades.

A rower and a track cyclist are now America's Cup winning sailors. Wait, what?

Joe Sullivan and Simon van Velthooven represented New Zealand at the 2012 London Olympics and it's fair to say sailing was far from their minds as they carved out successful careers in their respective sports.​

Sullivan, who hails from Picton, won a gold medal in the men's doubles sculls that year, while Palmerston's North's van Velthooven secured a bronze in the men's keirin.

Joe Sullivan, left, and New Zealand's Nathan Cohen come in first place in the final of the men's double skulls during ...
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Joe Sullivan, left, and New Zealand's Nathan Cohen come in first place in the final of the men's double skulls during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

So how did they end up sailing in Bermuda, ultimately being crucial cogs in Team New Zealand's America's Cup triumph?

READ MORE:
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* Team NZ defeat Oracle 7-1 to win Cup
* The science behind Team NZ's win
* Dalton dig at Barker over team nationality
*  Dalton interrupted: 'That'll be Russell'
* Ashby: Redemption and relief

 
Team NZ's power source - the cyclors.
CLIVE MASON/GETTY IMAGES

Team NZ's power source - the cyclors.

It seems the answers stems from some unsuccessful selections coinciding with Team New Zealand's savvy scouting.

Sullivan has been a Team New Zealand member since 2014. He had retired from rowing after being left out of the New Zealand squad for back-to-back campaigns. Disillusioned, he ended up joining the fire service.

He was initially snapped up as a traditional grinder, adding 20kg of muscle to his frame, and later adapted to their innovative pedal powered system. He said rowing is "70 per cent" legs anyway, so the new method suited his attributes, and cycling was a big part of his previous training regime.

Which leads us to the man nicknamed Rhino, which is due to his incredible leg power.

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Like many young Kiwis, van Velthooven grew up watching the America's Cup on TV. His uncle had a boat, which was a great start, and he once attended Outward Bound. His actual sailing experience was very limited though, he admitted, prior to receiving an out of the blue phone call from Team New Zealand last year.

"As a kid growing up I knew about the America's Cup long before I knew about track cycling," he told Stuff earlier in the year.

GILLES MARTIN-RAGET/ ACEA 2017 GILLES MARTIN-RAGET/ ACEA 2017 RICARDO PINTO/ ACEA 2017 SANDER VAN DER BORCH/ ACEA 2017 SANDER VAN DER BORCH/ ACEA 2017 GILLES MARTIN-RAGET/ ACEA 2017 SANDER VAN DER BORCH/ ACEA 2017 SANDER VAN DER BORCH/ ACEA 2017 SANDER VAN DER BORCH/ ACEA 2017 SANDER VAN DER BORCH/ ACEA 2017

Team NZ charge to the finish line to win the America's Cup.

Team NZ push ahead of Team USA midway through race nine of the America's Cup final.

Team USA led Team NZ to the first mark in race nine of the America's Cup final.

Team USA and Team NZ duel in the start box in race nine of the America's Cup final.

Team NZ in action early in race nine of the America's Cup final.

Team NZ and Team USA duel in the start box in race nine of the America's Cup final.

New Zealand pride on show in Bermuda ahead of race nine in the America's Cup final.

Team NZ's Blair Tuke meets fans as he heads to the boat ahead of race nine in the America's Cup final.

Team NZ fans cheer in Bermuda.

Team NZ skipper Glenn Ashby waves to fans as he heads for the boat ahead of race nine in the America's Cup final.

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"It was every Kiwi kid's dream to be on an America's Cup boat. There's huge legacy for New Zealand with the America's Cup. I mean, I'm sure everyone here wants to be on the boat as well, so of course I said yes."

So who better to have thrashing the pedals at "100 per cent" than an Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and world championship track cyclist?

"But this isn't sailing, this is a war machine," he said. "It's not a sail boat at all, there's nothing like it in the world at all.

"You're giving 100 per cent of your effort and mindset to your small job to keep the boat up in the air. If you mess up you get the kendo stick."

Van Velthooven described the members in cyclor positions one and two as "mercenaries". They were focussed so hard on producing power that it wasn't until the reviews at the end of each day that they actually could see what was going on out on the water.

But it'll be a satisfying experience when they watch the race back on Tuesday, the America's Cup back in their grasp after destroying Oracle 7-1.

 - Stuff

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