The Fit List

Why All Athletes Should Be More Like the Oracle Team Sailors

It’s got nothing to do with sailing

  • Know your boat.  Photo: Sam Greenfield/Oracle Team USA

  • Know your boat.  Photo: Sam Greenfield/Oracle Team USA

  • Know your boat.  Photo: Sam Greenfield/Oracle Team USA

  • Know your boat.  Photo: Sam Greenfield/Oracle Team USA

Oracle Team USA is a sailing crew of 14 athletes bankrolled by billionaire software tycoon, Larry Ellison. Every three years, these Olympians and world champions are called upon to compete for the America’s Cup title in a 46 mile-per-hour spectacle that’s been dubbed the world’s most dangerous sailing race

Nine years ago, America’s Cup boats had a top speed of about 11.5 mph, The Verge reports. That 35 mph leap comes from a combo of intense training and a greater focus on boat design. “Leaning how to sail is maybe 10 to 20 percent of it,” says Team Oracle member Sam Newton. “The other 80 to 90 percent is developing the boat to make it as fast as possible.” 

For that, Oracle has an 11-person design team. But they can’t do their jobs without quality feedback from the sailors. And the sailors can’t do their best without understanding how the boat works, right down to every last cable, panel, and button. In other words, the key to the sailors’ success, which includes two consecutive America’s Cup wins, is absolute mastery of their equipment. 

In the Oracle Team’s case, that’s a multi million-dollar vessel loaded with high-tech electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical features. For you, maybe it’s a time trial or mountain bike, skimo, or climbing equipment. Whatever your sport, you’ll be a better athlete for knowing your stuff, inside and out. That way, you can tweak it for optimal performance—enhanced aerodynamics or grip, for instance. And when something goes south, you’ll have a better handle on how to deal.

“When we’re training, we have a big support team in the water,” Newton says. “But come race day, we’re by ourselves.” If a certain system breaks down, their knowledge of the boat can help the team fix it or tweak their sailing technique to bypass that issue. Without that knowledge, says Newton, “we might not think of ways around it.” 

Same goes for any athlete racing or training. You could limp down the road with a broken bike chain hoping SAG or a stranger with a Subaru will find you. But if you knew how to fix it, the break wouldn’t totally bust your ride. 

That’s why, on any given day at the Oracle Team’s HQ in Bermuda, it’s not unusual to find the sailors wrenching on their boat in between 1.5-hour long dryland sessions and hours of training on the water. “It’s really important to have sound knowledge of the boat,” Newton says. Wise words for all athletes, whatever your boat may be. 

Filed To: Sailing, Water Activities, Fitness

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