Clarke: Cash will keep Team BDA dream alive
Richard Clarke hopes Team BDA will not be a short-lived experiment, but admits that finances will dictate whether they return for the next Red Bull Youth America’s Cup.
Clarke, the head coach, is optimistic the team can rollover into the next event — when and wherever that may be — providing they drum up sufficient support and sponsorship.
A mishmash of sailors and athletes reflecting the island’s racial diversity, Team BDA have been the feel-good story of the Bermudian summer after holding their own with the best youth sailors in the world.
Ultimately it comes down to a “game of economics”, according to Clarke, who is scheduled to meet with the group’s executive and sponsors today to discuss the team’s future.
“Absolutely there’s a chance Team BDA will continue, I’ll push for that,” said Clarke, a five-times Canadian Olympian. “A lot depends on when and where the next event will be, but I can guarantee if it was here in two years Team BDA would be back and way stronger than they are now.
“If the sponsors and general public believe this programme is a good thing then it doesn’t matter where the next event is held.
“We need that commitment going forward, though, so we can put the icing on this cake that we’ve created. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we couldn’t really see this through?”
They may not have met Clarke’s lofty expectations, finishing eighth in the overall standings — just four points off fourth — but he believes Team BDA are a hair’s breadth away from something special.
Eighteen months ago, it was almost unthinkable that the team, including members whom had little or no sailing experience, would post a bullet and a third-place in the event’s finals.
In doing so, they captured the hearts of the nation, although Clarke feels that they were capable of reaching even greater heights.
“If you told me 18 months ago that our team had have done this I would have been massively proud,” said the 48-year-old.
“We made some poor choices, and if I’m honest, I’m hugely disappointed because we can be so much better than we were.
“As a coach you’re always looking to get the best performance out of your team and I don’t think I got that at this event. I thought if we sailed our dream regatta a podium was certainly in reach.”
In a sport of close margins, when places can switch in a blink of any eye after a poor manoeuvre or tactical decision, Clarke believes a lack of racing experience was his team’s Achilles’ heel.
Encouragingly, should Team BDA’s journey continue, five of the present squad — Owen Siese, Mustafa Ingham, Philip Hagan, Cecilia Wollmann and Peter Dill — will still be eligible.
“The nice thing about this team is that it’s made of Bermudians and is a microcosm of the country itself,” Clarke said. “We had a mountain to climb when we started and sailed three times as much as everyone else just to get to where we are.
“We’re so close now to becoming a complete team and are at the point where we need to take this group and go and do more racing.”
Clarke admits it was a tough call to select Dimitri Stevens over Wollmann as helmsman, but envisages the 19-year-old Bermudian Olympian playing a significant role in a subsequent campaign.
“We’ve proven to Bermuda and the sailing world that we can be competitive in this event,” he said. “Plus, we have five returning who won’t age out. I’ve got both trimmers, my bowman and my grinder; all I’m looking for is a tactician and a driver — and we have Ceci.
“Ceci is still very young and we can continue to develop her talent. She has already proven she’s very capable of driving the boat.”
As the host country, Team BDA were adopted by Oracle Team USA, the America’s Cup defenders, who supported and mentored the Bermudian sailors throughout the campaign.
While Clarke is thankful for Oracle’s patronage, he does not believe their relationship is key to Team BDA’s survival.
“Oracle has had a good influence on our team, although they haven’t really affected our day-to-day operation or the product we’ve put on the water.
“As much as they were there to be our big brother, I still think we can be quite successful without their support. It’s been pretty much home-grown.”