April 10, 2012

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- With its fast catamarans, the newfangled America's Cup is a perfect fit for young adrenaline junkie Nathan Outteridge.

Just 26 and headed for his second Olympics in the 49er class, the Australian will make his debut as Team Korea's skipper when the first season of the America's Cup World Series resumes Wednesday in Naples, Italy.

"It's something I didn't think would happen so soon," the Aussie said in a phone interview from Italy. "I wanted to get involved, but I figured I'd try to get through a couple of Olympic games and make the transition in 10 years time, not when I'm 26. It's a great opportunity and that's why I took it. As long as it doesn't impact what I do in next few months and the games, I can't see how it's bad for me in any way."

Outteridge hadn't even sailed in an AC45 catamaran when he signed on with Team Korea's White Tiger Challenger to replace Chris Draper, who jumped to Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge. Outteridge got his hands on the tiller of the 45-foot, wing-sailed craft for the first time during training last week.

"It was pretty cool," Outteridge said. "There wasn't a lot of wind, but it's pretty impressive when you can still get up and fly a hull in that wind strength. I think I'm going to enjoy taking it up for sure. The way they perform compared to other boats, it's going to be quite an enjoyable thing to do."

The America's Cup has come a long way since 2007, the last time it was contested in plodding, 80-foot sloops. What once was a staid regatta perfect for the blue blazer crowd has morphed into a nautical extreme sport in which the sailors wear crash helmets and life jackets because of the on-the-edge sailing with a propensity for capsizes.

Five years ago, Outteridge wasn't interested in the America's Cup.

"To be honest I didn't watch any of the AC racing in 2007 because I thought the boats weren't very exciting, not very entertaining," he said. "But as soon as it moved to the multihulls, I've watched every single race as closely as I can. And I bet a lot of other people have done the same."

The Aussie said he looked at the big sloops and figured it was "all about the design team and about having computers tell you where to tack on the laylines. There didn't seem to be a big requirement for good, all-round sailing skills to make the boats go well. I come from the 49er where there is a high error rate in the sailing but the best sailor still wins and that's why I'm attracted to these kind of boats."

The AC45s require physical skill and quick decision-making. The sailing is expected to get even wilder when teams switch to the 72-foot cats that will be used for the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers and the 34th America's Cup, both in 2013 on San Francisco Bay.

Outteridge has mastered several classes of small, high-performance boats, including the Moth hydrofoil, A-Class catamaran and the 49er, a two-man skiff that's the fastest of the Olympic classes.

Outteridge's confidence comes from having grown up in a sailing family in Wangi Wangi, a bay on Lake Mcquarie north of Sydney.

"I've been sailing from the age of 2 and apparently when I was 4 I told my dad, `I know how to do this; you don't have to come with me anymore,' `' he said.

He's won three world titles in the 49er, one in the Moth and three ISAF World Youth titles. Last year alone he won the Moth and 49er world titles, 49er European championship and an Olympic test event in Weymouth, England.

"The thing I enjoy about going fast is the risk-reward scenario you get," Outteridge said. "If you make good decisions, the benefits are amazing. If you get it wrong, you can lose so much."

Russell Coutts, a New Zealander and four-time America's Cup winner, is impressed with Outteridge.

"He's an amazing sailor," said Coutts, who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics - two years before Outteridge was born - and is the CEO of defending America's Cup champion Oracle Racing of San Francisco. "It's almost like he's a freak in that he's able to jump in a bunch of boats, from a Moth to an A-Class catamaran to a 49er skiff in the Olympics, and do really well in each one of them. Obviously he's a huge talent and he's the sort of guy who will end up dominating the America's Cup in the future."

Coutts wouldn't be surprised to see Outteridge win some races in Naples.

"Once he gets involved in a few regattas and gets things sorted out, he'll certainly be as good as anyone," Coutts said.

Outteridge will have to balance his Olympic training and 49er regattas with the ACWS stops this spring and summer.

"It would have been ideal if it all started when the Olympics finished. But If I said `No' to this opportunity, I'm sure someone would have filled the position and the team would have continued on," he said. "I think that they're happy and understand my situation."

In the Beijing Olympics, Outteridge and crew Ben Austin were leading the gold medal race when they capsized not far from the finish line.

"It can be a difficult time to work out how to bounce back from something like that," said Outteridge, who has a new crewman, Iain Jensen.

"The whole goal the last four years is to win the gold medal in London. We're doing everything we can to make it happen. We're on track to make sure the wheels don't fall off at the end."

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