Belcher to skipper Aussie America's Cup team

MILES GODFREY
Last updated 13:27 06/03/2014

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Olympic sailing champion Mathew Belcher insists he can defend his gold medal while also leading Australia's new America's Cup team.

Belcher, who won the 470 class gold at the 2012 London Games, was unveiled as Team Australia's new skipper as the fledgling team showed off their new AC45 catamaran in Sydney on Thursday.

The crew are spending the next four days training with America's Cup champions Oracle Team USA on Sydney Harbour.

Preparing for his debut in the America's Cup while campaigning in 470s ahead of his title defence at the 2016 Rio Olympics will place huge time demands and pressure on Belcher over the next two years.

The 35th America's Cup is due to be staged in 2017 but there are a series of challenger events staged all over the globe in the years beforehand.

He will also have to learn to sail Team Australia's new boat, having spent the past decade or so in small two-man dinghies - very different from the big, super-fast America's Cup catamarans.

But Belcher and Australian sailing team head coach Victor Kovalenko insist he can successfully balance the twin pressures, and win gold again for Australia at the Rio Games.

"I'm not alone in doing this," said Belcher, a four-time 470 world champion.

"A lot of the Australian guys did it last year, including Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge.

"So I'll use that as guidance. It can be done."

Slingsby won Laser class gold at the London Olympics before serving as tactician aboard Oracle Team USA for its come-from-behind victory over Team New Zealand last year.

Outteridge won gold in the 49er skiff with crewmate Iain Jensen before serving as helmsman for unsuccessful challenger Artemis Racing.

Both men have again signed on with their respective teams for the 35th America's Cup, while Jimmy Spithill will again lead Oracle - giving the Auld Mug an overwhelming Australian flavour.

Slingsby dropped out of the Olympic program this year after taking on a more senior role at Oracle.

But he insisted Belcher could be successful in both disciplines.

"It is a juggling act but I believe Mat will do just fine and he's already ahead of the pack in the Olympic stuff, so I wish him the best," said Slingsby.

Kovalenko gave Belcher his blessing to join Team Australia and revealed he may also join the new outfit in a coaching role.

"I think it's possible because the timeframe is good for us and he'll also bring his winning experience to the America's Cup," he said.

Belcher's Olympic crewmate Will Ryan could also join Team Australia.

Team Australia is being bankrolled by Bob Oatley's Hamilton Island Yacht Club and is the challenger of record for the 35th America's Cup, giving it the right to help decide the rules and location for the event.

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Team Australia's full crew is yet to be finalised but CEO Iain Murray has suggested it will feature mainly young, up and coming Australian sailors .

Skiff world champion Seve Jarvin led an experimental Team Australia crew at last month's Extreme Sailing Series in Singapore but the team finished the event 10th out of 11 boats.

NEW TEAM AUSTRALIA AMERICA'S CUP SKIPPER MAT BELCHER'S SUCCESS STORY    

Mathew Belcher

* With four 470 class world titles to his name and a gold medal at the London Olympics, Belcher is one of world's best sailors

* Between November 2011 and January 2014 he won an unprecedented 18 regattas in a row with former crewmate Malcolm Page and current partner Will Ryan.

* Multi-tasking is definitely one of Belcher's skills: in the middle of his 18-regatta winning streak he had a newborn baby and completed a Master's degree.

* He earned a taekwondo black belt.

- AAP

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