By Lynn Fitzpatrick (www.worldregattas.com)
The future of the most widely followed sailing event will not be held up in the courts forever and when the America’s Cup challenger series and a location is announced Argo Challenge will be among the cadre of high-powered teams competing. Argo, with its eye-catching graphics and compelling message has been catching the attention of everyone who sees the team out on the water or hears about its cause.
The Argo Challenge was a showstopper at the Rolex Maxi Cup. Not only did Argo on Atlanta II win, ex-aequo, the ORC Division within the Mini Maxi Class, but the International Maxi Association also presented the team with a special award for their team spirit in conveying a very important message.
Argo’s message? – In the world of sport, as in life, barriers can be broken down if one has determination, passion, team spirit, seriousness and professionalism. We can, you can! Just like the Argonauts, the team is determined to overcome all challenges.
Two-time Olympic Bronze medalist, Lars Grael, is at the helm of the Argo Challenge, an America’s Cup challenge team mostly comprised of extremely capable athletes with physical disabilities. Nearly ten years ago, to the day, Grael, one the greatest sailors in the world, was run over by an intoxicated powerboat driver during a regatta. Grael lost his leg but never lost his passion for sailing.
The applause was overwhelming and never-ending when Grael took to the stage to receive Argo’s awards. The man, the message, the challenge, the success – one thing is for certain; we are fortunate that Grael is a passionate man who never gave up hope.
Grael had the support of an incredibly capable crew aboard Argo on Atlanta II. His Argonauts included Paolo Scutellaro, a former America’s Cup team manager and trimmer; Umberto Panerai, an Olympic Water Polo medalist and America’s Cup grinder; Loic Touz, an experienced French sailor; and Pierangelo Vignati, a Paralympic cycling Gold medalist. Heiko Kroeger, the 2001 2.4 Meter World Champion and Gold medalist at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, is also part of the Argo Challenge team, but celebrated his teammates’ victory while preparing for the 2008 Paralympics in Qingdao, China.
Carlo Puri Negri, a Vice President of the International Maxi Association, stepped up to the plate to endorse Idea Argo and its mission when he generously let the Argo crew use Farr 70, Atlanta II, during the Rolex Maxi Cup. A champion of noble causes, the well known Italian entrepreneur let his previous boat, Grampus, be used to help out in the therapy for psycho-physical disabilities.
Puri Negri said, “I believe a project like Argo has a sound value both from sport viewpoint and from a social one. When Lars Grael and Antonio Spinelli presented me with this project I immediately decided to sustain their endeavours.” Additionally, New Balance, Volkswagen, Evolutiva, SixPeople and Sinergia partnered with Argo on Atlanta II at the Maxi Rolex Cup to launch this exciting and commendable mission.
With such a warm reception in Porto Cervo and the state of flux of the America’s Cup, the Argo Challenge has changed its strategy to continue their quest within a framework that is already established. They are looking at the 2009 big boat regatta calendar and are circling Trofeo Pirelli, Capri Sailing Week, Giraglia, Copa del Rey, Rolex Maxi Cup and Les Voiles de Saint Tropez.
This non-profit association and capable crew have proven that they can perform in dinghies, big boats and in life. The immediate quest for Grael and his Argonauts is not the Golden Fleece, but a very competitive big boat to help them carry on their mission.