WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Former Olympic swimmer and kayaker Steven Ferguson has become the latest top-class athlete to join Team New Zealand as they confirmed their squad for the defense of the America's Cup in 2021 in Auckland.
The 39-year-old, who is the son of four-time Olympic gold medal-winning kayaker Ian Ferguson, was selected as a grinder on the new 75-foot foiling monohull, Team New Zealand said on Thursday.
Ferguson competed in swimming at the 2000 Sydney Olympics before shifting to the kayak at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.
Former Olympic gold medal-winning rower Joe Sullivan and Olympic bronze medalist track cyclist Simon van Velthooven were part of the team that won the world's oldest sporting trophy in 2017 by beating Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA 7-1 in Bermuda.
Sullivan and Van Velthooven were also grinders on the team, although TNZ turned the grinding positions on their foiling catamarans into cycling stations, which helped the team generate more hydraulic power to control the wing sail and daggerboards.
The 'cyclors' were outlawed for the next regatta, with teams having to resort to traditional grinding positions using their arms and TNZ chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge said it had not been an easy route back for those involved in 2017.
"They all effectively had to prove themselves again," Shoebridge said in a statement.
"And it has been really encouraging to see the hunger from the guys who were with us last time to return for the defense on home waters in New Zealand."
TNZ added that rookie Marius Van der Pol, who sent an unsolicited email to Shoebridge asking for a trial, also made the team, joining Louis Sinclair, who was on Oracle in 2017, and Marcus Hansen as new faces.
"Grinding on the AC75s is a going to be a massively physically demanding role for grinders during racing," TNZ's Head of Physical Performance Dan Plews said.
"Having put all of these guys through some pretty brutal testing sessions we are pretty impressed with their natural ability, but also the extent they will go through to push their bodies to the limit."
The afterguard of Glenn Ashby, Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Ray Davies were all retained, while Andy Maloney, Carlo Huisman, Guy Endean, Josh Junior, Sullivan and Van Velthooven also return from the successful 2017 team.
Syndicates from Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and two from the United States will compete in early 2021 to determine the challenger to race TNZ in the Cup match in March.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ian Ransom)