Korean challenger in the 34th America's Cup?
So far, in the history of the world's most prestigious sailing event there have been four occasions when an Asian team mounted a challenge. The first Asians to contest in the Louis Vuitton Cup were Nippon Challenge in 1992, skippered by Chris Dickson. The Japanese built upon that campaign in order to return in 1995, skippered that time by a national, Makoto Namba, and helmed by John Cutler. The third challenge from the Japanese syndicate came in the 2000 edition with a team led by Peter Gilmour. That would be the last time, so far, Japan would challenge.
The fourth Asian challenger would come two editions later, in Valencia in 2007, in the form of the well known China Team. It now seems there is some probability the 34th America's Cup will see the first ever challenger coming from another Asian economic power, Korea. While I was in Kuala Terengganu for the Monsoon Cup, I had the opportunity to talk to Dong Young Kim, founder of the Korea Match Cup, about Korea and the America's Cup. Dong Young Kim was in the two meetings for existing and potential competitors, first in Paris and more recently in Dubai, wearing two hats.
His first hat was that of event promoter. He created from scratch Korea Match Cup and turned it into one of the most popular events of the World Match Racing Tour in a mere 3 years. So, it would only seem obvious that he would be interested in hosting one or more events of the America's Cup World Series. The current venue of Korea Match Cup, on the northwest coast of the country, is unsuitable, lacking the sufficient race area to accommodate the much bigger AC45's, let alone the AC72's, so his proposed venue is the southern city of Busan.
Dong Young Kim, founder of the Korea Match Cup and leader of the first ever potential America's Cup effort by South Korea. Gyeonggi, 8 June 2010. Photo copyright World Match Racing Tour
Still, I was more interested on his idea of trying to set up a team, not just organize an event. If projects from established nations have problems getting off the ground how can someone from an Asian country with no presence whatsoever in high-level international sailing pretend to mount a syndicate? Especially under terms that, for the likes of Keith Mills, make it practically impossible to win? Kim's reply was quite straightforward. Whatever the yacht might be, his argument is, he's absolutely aware the Korean Team has no chance at all to win in their very first try. If the yacht was, always according to Kim, a "big RC44" or similar monohull, then his chances of a decent performance, even among the challengers, would be practically nil. He sees the winged multihulls as the factor that puts all challengers practically on the same level and could prevent the team from becoming the equivalent of China Team in Valencia.
There are little details Kim could give me about the project other than it's still in a preliminary state. It goes without saying that the team, if it goes ahead, will mainly consist of non-Koreans as the country, precisely, lacks the knowhow and manpower. His main task right now is to raise the necessary funds for the campaign and has set a goal of approximately 40-45 million euros. He considers that amount enough for the goals of the team and his fundraising drive is limited to the major Korean corporation. Although he couldn't give a definite deadline after which a decision would need to be taken as to whether the project goes ahead or gets killed but he said he was optimistic. At least, money is not something the huge Korean groups are in lack of!