As the Volvo Ocean Race reaches its thrilling conclusion in The Hague over the coming days, keen sailing fans will be keeping an eye on the results to see more than just which team ends up on top of the leaderboard.
In the background another race is unfolding.
MAPFRE’s Blair Tuke and Team Brunel’s Peter Burling are pushing for what some sailing media have dubbed the ‘Triple Crown’, consisting of wins in the Olympic Games, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race.
It has never been done before but now two sailors and former (and future) teammates have it in their sights.
Up until now, it is believed the closest anyone has come to achieving the fabled treble is American sailor John Kostecki, who won a Silver Medal in the 1988 Olympic Games, then skippered illbruck to victory in the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race, and finally won the America’s Cup with Oracle Racing in 2010 and 2013.
Kostecki’s achievement took over 20 years to realise.
But if either of Burling or Tuke manage to lock it down, they’ll have accomplished the feat in just over two years, having won a gold medal sailing together in the 49er Class in the Rio Olympic Games and the America’s Cup in 2017 in Bermuda with Emirates Team New Zealand.
Now, for the third pillar of the Triple Crown, they are sailing against each other for the first time. And both have one hand on victory in the Volvo Ocean Race, with MAPFRE and Team Brunel on equal points at the top of the leaderboard heading into the final leg.
“It’s been an amazing run,” Tuke admitted somewhat reluctantly.
Neither he nor Burling appear to be comfortable talking about personal achievements that have come in the context of team victories.
Mention of the Triple Crown has been known to result in them rolling their eyes at the very question. The humility is genuine.
“Once it’s done we can take stock of what we’ve achieved over the past few years. But for now the full focus is on trying to win this thing,” Tuke continued.
“I think Rio was the end of an amazing four years for us where we went unbeaten in the 49er…
“From there we rolled straight into the AC programme, trying to get the boat going faster and faster and developing in Auckland and going up to Bermuda and bringing the Cup back to NZ which was an amazing moment.
“For me, I had about a week at home in New Zealand and then it was off to Spain to join the MAPFRE guys and get into this.
“So it’s been a whirlwind few years but you have to take the opportunities when they come and I’ve loved every one of them. I’m looking forward to finishing this one off like we started. It should be a fun few days.”
If anything, his Olympic and America’s Cup teammate Burling is even more circumspect.
Questions about the Triple Crown need to be couched in general terms about an amazing past couple of years of sailing.
“It’s been a pretty incredible 10 years really,” Burling said. “Firstly getting an Olympic medal in London (Silver, 49er, 2012) as pretty young kids and then getting involved in some pretty awesome programmes while campaigning for Rio was pretty cool. We’ve managed to be with some amazing teams and hopefully it continues.”
Burling says the opportunity to join Team Brunel was a chance to round out his skills as a sailor and learn about his limits.
“You gain a lot of experience and learn a lot about yourself in the Volvo Ocean Race,” he said. “You’re put under some pretty extreme environments with very limited sleep. Unless you do one of these races I don’t think people really know what it’s like…
“It’s been an amazing experience and I’m sure a lot of things will transfer over to make me a better sailor. That’s a lot of the reason why I did this race. It’s different to the Cup or the Olympic environment which I’ve done a lot in, but also just to become a better sailor and I think I’ve done it.”
As they’re sailing on different teams in the Volvo Ocean Race, only one of Tuke or Burling might be able to claim the Triple Crown. For this, the teammates have become rivals.
And in fact, it’s not a sure thing that either of them will manage to claim it. Dongfeng Race Team is equally in the mix for the overall Volvo Ocean Race title with MAPFRE and Team Brunel, and the Chinese team could put an end to the painful questions by winning the race.
Leg 11 of the Volvo Ocean Race starts on June 21 and is expected to finish on June 24 in The Hague. Follow the progress of MAPFRE and Team Brunel @volvooceanrace to see whether Pete or Blair will race into The Hague as Triple Crown winners.