There’s little getting away from the fact that 50m Euros for an America’s Cup campaign that produced just two victories – against China Team – represents absolute failure for United Internet Team Germany in the Louis Vuitton Cup. So, small wonder that Danish skipper Jesper Bank fell on his sword today at a press conference.
A double Olympic Champion in the Soling class, Bank comes across as a thoroughly decent human being in public, but the German team always seemed riddled with internal politics and infighting, and for that Bank must take a good chunk of the responsibility.
Germany’s first foray into the Cup might not have looked so bad if South Africa’s first campaign had not looked so good. With less than half the budget, Shosholoza finished 7th in the table and were light years ahead of Germany in every department.
One of the things that Shosholoza seemed to get so right was in committing to build a Version 5 boat and giving the team a good technical platform to work from. Not only that, but gaining that boatspeed advantage so early in the project helped boost the confidence of an inexperienced sailing crew. That was a luxury never afforded to the Germans as they hobbled round the course in the woefully slow GER 72.
It seems that is a lesson not lost on UITG head Michael Scheeren who said the team would build a new boat as soon as possible in the new cycle for the next America’s Cup. “The most important criterion for success in the America’s Cup is time - we have learned that. Therefore, we have decided to commission a new boat now. We will discuss the future with our sailors, who have been part of this campaign, in the next weeks.”
In light of today’s announcement, it explains why Bank looked close to tears at times in the skippers’ press conference yesterday. When the conversation got on to nationality rules, and whether there were any suitable homegrown candidates who could skipper a German team, Bank pointed in the direction of the Alinghi base and suggested there was someone over there who could do a good job. He was talking about Jochen Schuemann.
Schuemann is an old friend and rival of Bank’s from his Soling days, and is one of the most successful Olympic sailors of all time, with three Golds and one Silver to his name. But as we saw with Thierry Peponnet’s withdrawal from the skipper’s role for Areva last year and now Bank’s resignation from UITG today, Olympic Champions are not necessarily born to the role of America’s Cup skipper.
Schuemann learned about America’s Cup challenges the hard way in 2000 where the only thing to smile about with Switzerland’s first entry into the Cup was the syndicate name, the unfortunately titled ‘Be Happy’ campaign. Of course, as a key part of Alinghi’s 2003 whitewash of the Cup, Schuemann has since seen how a campaign should be run. But does that qualify him as the most appropriate candidate to lead Germany into its second Cup challenge? Possibly, but not necessarily. It will be interesting to see if Schuemann is prepared to pick up where his dear departed friend left off.