Ian Walker & Adil Khalid: Sailing their way to success

Rory Coen 15/12/2013
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Man at the helm: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing captain Ian Walker.

The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain, next October and the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team are already gearing up for the challenge.

The race organisers, in an effort to make the race safer yet more competitive, have altered the rules somewhat so that each boat will be identical in its design and the number of sailors reduced from 11 to just eight.

Sport360° spent a day with two of the crew tasked with leading the ADOR into Gothenburg, Sweden, in first place – skipper and two-time Olympic silvermedallist Ian Walker, and 22-year-old Adil Khalid, who will be making his second appearance with the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team.

The start of the race is less than a year away, how are preparations going?

Ian Walker: We’re going to get our boat in February. At the moment, we have a pretty good idea who’s going to be in the crew and in the shore team/support team.

We’re spending a lot of time in the gym so that drives the motivation as well. The more work you put in, the more you look forward to the end result.

It seems like a long way away, but if you compare it to our day-planner, it’s scary how quickly the start will come around.

How is the 2014-15 race different to the last one?

Ian Walker: For a start, every team will have identical boats. The organisers have commissioned eight boats to be built, so effectively we have no say in the design of our boat or sails.

All the teams will have the exact same equipment which, from my point of view, is exciting because my background – from the Olympics (a two-time silver medallist in Atlanta and Sydney) – is in what we call ‘onedesign sailing’.

It’s really a test of team-work, individual skill, decision making and fitness – it’s much more a test of people than technology, as has been in previous cases.

And the number of sailors has been reduced? How do you choose these?

There’s only eight sailors allowed this time – and one of the team is an onboard reporter, so nine altogether. When you only have eight people, sailing and racing the boat, it means that at least six of those have to be able to steer the boat to a very high quality.

You need much more rounded people who can cover all the basic skills – you need a bowman, a navigator, you need enough helmsmen, you need enough trimmers, and you also need a bunch of people who are going to mix well together, gel together, you need as many big and strong people together because it’s physically quite hard work.

It looks like we’ll have half the team returning from the previous race because that gives us continuity. The other half will be new additions – people who have a strong pedigree, who have maybe won the race before, who have got skills that we didn’t have in the last race.

After all you have achieved, does sailing still excite you?

I’ve been in this business for 20 years and, for me, it’s all about winning. This is what motivates me. I want to win the Volvo Ocean Race. I’ve spent six or seven years trying to achieve it. I spent eight years prior to that in the America’s Cup and 15 years trying to win Olympic golds. I’ve got to win this race.

Do you still think about losing out on gold in consecutive Olympics?

Does it bug me? The first silver medal, no. Anybody who has been to the Olympics will tell you that by just getting a medal of any colour, it feels like you’ve won. The second one, I lost gold by one point and I suppose that bugs me now. At the time? No, because I was new to that class and I lost a new sailing partner so it felt like for us to even finish in the top half was a victory.

I guess when I look back now I think I could have done something different or better and saved the gold medal, but that’s in the past, you have to look forward, not back.

Adil, how has your first experience in the 2011-2012 race helped your preparation?

Adil Khalid: With a year’s experience, I know what I need to do to get fit and prepared for what’s ahead of me – I didn’t have this before. It’s not like I’m going into an environment that I’m not familiar with anymore.

Now I know what I’m doing with the guys and if something happens on the boat I can help them and they tend to trust me more because they know what I have done. 

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