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America's Cup still the pinnacle, says British Olympic chief

The Artemis Racing yacht is towed to shore after capsizing in the San Francisco Bay, California May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jed Jacobsohn
The Artemis Racing yacht is towed to shore after capsizing in the San Francisco Bay, California May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jed Jacobsohn

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - The America's Cup will remain an irresistible lure for the world's top Olympic sailors despite the tragic death of British gold medalist Andrew Simpson on Thursday.

Royal Yacht Association (RYA) Olympic manager Stephen Park expressed his devastation at the news that 36-year-old Simpson had died when the huge AC72 multi-hull craft in which he was crewing capsized during an America's Cup trial in San Francisco.

Simpson, who won Olympic gold in the Star class in Beijing and silver at the London Games and was contemplating a return in Rio de Janeiro, had taken the natural step into what is often described as Formula One on water.

The gigantic Artemis AC72 catamaran, Sweden's entry for the America's Cup, featured a 20m long hull, was 14m wide and the mast towered 40m above the ocean waves.

A 260 square meter "hard" sail, larger than a jumbo jet wing, wing rather than the fabric type of traditional sailing craft, can propels an AC72 at speeds of more than 40 knots.

Simpson's Star boat can be towed behind a family car.

"I think ultimately the sort of sailors we have in the Olympic program are sailors that are successful around the world and the America's Cup is still the pinnacle," Park told Reuters in a telephone interview on Friday.

"I don't think this will effect the enthusiasm of people to get involved in that world.

"Ultimately people know the risks that are involved and they will continue to take those risks and do all they can to make the boats go faster and push them as hard as possible."

Simpson had moved with his wife and two young children to San Francisco for six months to prepare for the America's Cup in which British Olympic sailing great Ben Ainslie is also taking part with Team Oracle.

Ainslie was also testing in San Francisco Bay when Simpson's craft capsized, trapping him up underneath.

Ainslie, Britain's most successful Olympic yachtsman with four golds, recently described the appeal of the America's Cup.

"I really love these boats because they are very physical, they're very dynamic, they're fast, exciting and the racing is very close," he said.

Park said Simpson had been looking forward to the challenge of being on the Artemis team - his first taste of the America's Cup in a multi-hull boat.

"Early on he had been a bit reluctant to get involved but once he decided to get into it he was in their with both feet," he said. "He moved his wife and kids out there a few weeks ago and was fully committed to this period through to September."

"He was a great guy and family man. Very passionate about everything he did. Very passionate about sailing and living life. It's devastating that his life has been cut short."

Park said accidents of the type suffered by Artemis were rare but that the new design of boats was pushing man and machine to the limits.

"The bigger the boats the bigger the loads and the faster they go," he said. "Whenever there is speed and high load there can be accidents, things can go pretty badly wrong and people can get injured but we understand that when we get involved.

"The America's Cup has always pushed the boundaries of design and what's been possible. Fortunately accidents of this nature are very rare. You get cuts and bruises and the occasional broken limb but it's very rare that someone dies."

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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