The United States SailGP Team recently kicked off its 2020 SailGP campaign with the announcement of a new roster. As this issue went to press, the all-American, eight-man squad was preparing for their debut at Sydney SailGP, sailed February 28 & 29 in Sydney, Australia.
The 2020 U.S. SailGP Team’s roster of America’s Cup athletes, world match racing champions and Tokyo 2020 Olympic hopefuls that includes Rome Kirby (age 30; Newport, RI), Taylor Canfield (30; USVI), Riley Gibbs (24; Long Beach, CA) and Hans Henken (26; Coronado, CA) is now bolstered by the addition of Peter Kinney (29; Newport Beach, CA), Scott Ewing (23; Miami, FL), Ben Bardwell (41; Brownsville, VT) and Victor Diaz de Leon (28; Miami, FL), who were recruited over the past several months. The team has also hired America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Kimo Worthington as General Manager.
“We spent the off-season searching for the strongest and most passionate American athletes who would fit in well with our team and push our performance to a new level,” said U.S. SailGP Team CEO and Helmsman Rome Kirby. “Our goal is to build a strong foundation of leadership, trust, and mutual respect for long-term success. Just like the 1980 ‘Miracle’ USA Olympic Hockey Team, our recruiting was not about finding ‘all-stars,’ but finding fresh and hungry athletes whose personalities play in the system we’ve created for Season 2 success.”
Kirby returns as helmsman and CEO, focused on redemption for Season 2. “As our team and the league continues to grow, I feel like we are well positioned for success both on and off the water. We’ve made important additions that are already paying dividends and Season 2 can’t begin soon enough,” he said.
Wing trimmer Riley Gibbs is back in the starting lineup, having spent the majority of his off-season gaining valuable foiling time in his Tokyo 2020 pursuits. He and Nacra 17 teammate Anna Weis have been top performers during the Olympic qualification process, earning gold in the Pan American Games and securing the USA the Nacra 17 Olympic qualification slot. Gibbs (skipper) and Weis are strong contenders to be selected for the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team to compete in Tokyo this summer.
In the flight controller slot, former match racing world champion Taylor Canfield returns for Season 2. It’s been a productive off-season for Canfield, who served as tactician on board the winning M32 catamaran at November’s M32 World Championship in Lake Garda, in addition to training on the Moth.
The team’s “rocket scientist,” Hans Henken returns in the grinder position. Henken, who graduated from Stanford with aero and astronautical engineering degrees, campaigned his 49er in the off-season competing with teammate Judge Ryan at the 2019 49er World Championships in Auckland.
A former collegiate football player, Peter Kinney joins the team as a grinder. He’s been actively racing on the M32 catamaran and Melges 32 circuits, in addition to competing in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup. He and his team earned a Melges 32 world championship in 2016, in addition to taking home two distance racing titles on board Rio 100, setting the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta record, and Pacific Cup, both in 2016.
Also new to the lineup is Ben Bardwell, an experienced offshore and big boat sailor who trained with the U.S. SailGP Team late last season and was immediately hooked on the supercharged F50. The strength, stamina and athleticism that he’s known for throughout the Maxi, TP52 and match racing circuits will serve him well in his position as grinder.
The youngest member of the team at 23, Scott Ewing is no stranger to foiling and going fast. Ewing has raced in the Extreme Sailing Series, Moths, Flying Phantoms, and competed with Next Generation USA in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in 2017. In 2016, he won the 49er national championship.
Finally, Victor Diaz de Leon rounds out the U.S. SailGP Team as reserve wing trimmer/flight controller and will play an integral role in analyzing the team’s performance while growing the depth of experience in the highly technical wing control systems. Diaz de Leon, regarded as one of the best Moth sailors in America, brings significant foiling experience to the team.
Kirby hopes that the U.S. SailGP Team serves as an inspiration for young American sailors. “There are incredibly talented athletes developing in the U.S. pipeline and our goal is that they see our team, recognize there is a pathway, and aspire to join us.”
One of the few Americans to have won both the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race, Kimo Worthington joins the team in Season 2 as General Manager, bringing experience from ten professional sailing campaigns as both an athlete and GM. Kirby knows his management style well, having competed in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-‘12 with PUMA Ocean Racing, managed by Worthington. “The speed at which this team has grown has been really exciting,” said Kirby. “I knew early on this off-season that we could benefit from the experience Kimo brings and asked him to join us for Season 2.”
In addition to managing both PUMA Ocean Racing campaigns, Worthington also managed Volvo Ocean Race 2005-‘06 competitor Pirates of the Caribbean for Paul Cayard, and previously won the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race as a crewmember aboard the winning EF Language. Add to this his work at North Sails, plus six America’s Cup campaigns including a win on America3 in 1992, and the depth of experience he brings to the young American squad is immense.
Worthington will oversee the team’s off-water management and commercial interests in Season 2 as the team grows its sponsorship, logistics, performance and marketing platforms, complimenting the team’s on-water goals. “Like every program in my career, I remove obstacles so each team member can do what they need to do to be successful,” said Worthington. “SailGP and the team are growing quickly and as general manager, I’ll keep the team running efficiently so the athletes can focus on winning races.”
Kirby recalls the frustration he and the team felt after a rollercoaster Season 1, in which they finished sixth. “Going into Marseille in third place, and then to end the season the way we did; it was incredibly tough,” he said. “But we are all fighters and immediately our focus turned to Season 2 success.”
The team then jumpstarted its rebuilding process with an intensive leadership course with The McChrystal Group, led by General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal, in November followed by a period of intense fitness testing and training camps coupled with the majority of the team sailing Moths as much as possible.
At the same time, the team’s on-water performance has been supported by ongoing data analysis gathered from thousands of data points on the F50 during Season 1 enabled by the Oracle Cloud, which have contributed to a new playbook for Season 2.
The team will line up six other teams in SailGP Season 2, including Australia, Japan, Great Britain, France, Spain and Denmark, in the quest for the $1 million prize.
Season 2 Teams
Australia, Tom Slingsby
Denmark, Nicolai Sehested
France, Billy Besson
Great Britain, Ben Ainslie
Japan, Nathan Outteridge
Spain, Jordi Xammar/ Phil Robertson
United States, Rome Kirby
Season 2 Schedule*
Sydney, Australia (February 28 & 29)
San Francisco, USA (May 2 & 3)
New York, USA (June 12 & 13)
Cowes, UK (August 14 & 15)
* The dates for SailGP Marseilles had not been announced at press time.
Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans with the season culminating with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race. To learn more, visit SailGP.com. ■