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Monday, April 30, 2007

Team Shosholoza's quest for history

Every four years The America's Cup is held by the current cup champions. For the past three years an army of international sailors have battled each other in a series of regattas for the chance to meet the champion of the America's Cup---Team Alinghi of Switzerland.

So what is so remarkable about a bunch of rich, developed countries and several members of the Richest People in the World list throwing their spare change around to fund an elitist sport and these sailing "syndicates," as they are called? The average budget of these syndicates is over $200 million, but is that suprising to anyone when the funders are individuals like software giant Larry Ellison or biotech CEO Ernesto Bertarelli?

The answer, of course, is "No." But what is remarkable about the 32nd America's Cup is that for the first time ever in its 100+ year history, one of the challengers is from Africa. South Africa, to be exact.

Captain Salvatore Sarno of the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) forged ahead with a dream and a plan, out of which was born Team Shosholoza. Sailing on a fraction of the budget of the other syndicates, Team Shosholoza also fielded the first non-white sailors in this prestigious competition.

Currently, the race is on. The warm-up regattas have been sailed over the past three years, all leading up to the Louis Vuitton Cup---which is nearly halfway over. This final bit of this competition (which is almost as long as the ICC Cricket World Cup and comes complete with its own weather delays!) consists of two round robin stages, followed by a semi-final and final. The winner earns the right to meet Bertarelli's Team Alinghi in the America's Cup in June (view the trailer here).

After the first round robin stage, Team Shosholoza, despite being green and underfunded, went 5/10 and is in the hunt for a semi-final appearance, although they have left themselves little margin for error. Mechanical problems have been numerous although they have had their share of good luck, too. Out of 11 boats they are lying in 7th and are five points off the pace (a win earns a team two points). As the final round robin stage begins, the South Africans must not lose to any lower-ranking teams, and also must draw blood from those teams in the top four if they wish to advance to the semis.

On Monday they are up against bottom dweller Team United Internet Germany. Shosholoza needs every point if they are to stay in contention, and so therefore each and every race is vital to their survival. It is easy to follow the live racing and read all the results and rankings here. If they can dispose of the Germans and gain some confidence, then perhaps they can slay the proverbial giant, Larry Ellison's Team BMW Oracle Racing, who has lost only one race (out of 10) so far. They face the Americans on 1 May. In their first meeting last week, Shosholoza gave the yanks a scare, but in the end BMW Oracle's experience won the day and the race for them. A win on 1 May would leave Shosholoza in a fine spot going into their next races and keep them in the hunt for a coveted (and historical) semi-final place.

Good luck Team Shosholoza!

Watch more of Shosholoza:
T-Systems advert
German TV clip