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Team selection is key, says Coutts

Big decisions: Coutts, the Team Oracle USA CEO

Team selection is never an exact science and Sir Russell Coutts, the Oracle Team USA CEO, is the first to admit that the task of choosing the best group to defend the “Auld Mug” at the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda is indeed a daunting one.

“The amazing thing about sport that I’ve found is that team selection is one of the hardest things to do because some of the guys look great in training,” Coutts, a five-times America’s Cup winner, said.

“They have got all the skills, the physique and athletic ability, they practise hard and have the discipline and so forth then you think this guy is going to be great, but then you put them in a race situation and then they are not so great.

“Conversely you look at people in training and you say, ‘well, I don’t know if this guy is going to make it’ and put them in a race situation and they are fantastic.

“Team selection is tough and if it was easy all the teams would be winning.”

Oracle have undergone a considerable facelift since the previous America’s Cup in San Francisco, where the defending champion rebounded from an 8-1 deficit to beat challenger Emirates Team New Zealand and retain their title.

“Oracle Team USA, out of a squad of 24 sailors from the last America’s Cup, have kept six so it’s a big change,” said Coutts, who has also claimed an unprecedented seven King Edward VII Gold Cups in Bermuda.

“In a way you can look at the results from last time and say they are great and of course they were because we won. That doesn’t mean you are going to win in 2017 with that same team.

“It’s highly unlikely and what you really have to do — and this is a hard thing to do in sports — is try and identify the talent that is going to be the best in 2017.

“It’s not today that really matters, it’s what matters in June of 2017 and so there’s a lot of young guys involved and there will be more trials over the next few years and that’s a good thing.”

Among those who parted ways with Oracle after the last America’s Cup is Sir Ben Ainslie, the five-times Olympic medallist, multiple world champion and ISAF Sailor of the Year. Ainslie has formed his own syndicate, Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR), the first British challenger for the oldest trophy in international sport since White Lightning in 2003, which was eliminated in the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

“Ben Ainslie is one of the top talents in the world and was another major influence in turning things around,” Coutts said. “He’s got his own team and they are going to be strong.”

Ainslie and some of his team-mates travelled to Bermuda last month to practise foiling in the Nacra20 catamaran in the Great Sound, the venue for the next America’s Cup to be contested for in the wing sail AC62 catamaran.