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Luna Rossa: the challenge of destiny of Shannon Falcone

I was three and a half years old when I found myself the youngest participant, along with my family, in the transatlantic race from Casablanca to the Caribbean; fate has it that I grew up on a boat. My father Carlo is a competent and passionate sailor, who passed on to me his love for what was his world and his life.
In less than a year and a half the waters of Auckland, home of the defender Emirates Team New Zealand, will host the 36th edition of the America's Cup. As happened since 1851, the best boats and crews in the sailing world will fight to win what is the oldest sport’s trophy. This is an event that Luna Rossa wants to get to in the best possible way and for which dozens of men have been working tirelessly for almost two years, determined to write history.
To raise the "old jug" to the sky and to finally take it to Italy, is a dream that was born a long time ago, on that famous evening of 3 February 1997 when the patron Patrizio Bertelli decided to launch his challenge to the world of racing. A dream that in order to become a reality, will need the best possible boat and an extraordinary team composed of individuals capable of giving their best individually and, at the same time, to act as one man. A unique team, able to bring together talented young people and experienced sailors, determined to leave an indelible mark in a competition where every detail can be fundamental.
The crew made up of Luna Rossa in view of 2021 includes men who have already engraved their names in large print in the history of sailing: Jimmy Spithill, Gilberto Nobili and Shannon Falcone were on board Oracle Team USA in the victorious campaigns of 2010 and 2013, when the American crew first snatched the Cup from Alinghi's hands and then defend it against Emirates Team New Zealand at the end of a memorable confrontation. At a disadvantage of 8-1, Oracle then managed to win 9-8, making what has been described as "the biggest comeback in the history of the sport". There are those who might think that after a feat of this magnitude a sailor can consider himself satisfied and have nothing more to ask, but this is certainly not the case for those who have decided to get back in the game in view of 2021, with the aim of achieving a success that would once again change the history of the America's Cup.

Shannon Falcone and the sea: a story that lasts a lifetime

Furthermore, while for the team set up by Prada this appointment with the waters of Auckland in 2021 will be important and suggestive, for some it could also be a closing of a circle, a wonderful adventure that began more than twenty years ago. Let's talk about Shannon Falcone, a sailor born in England in 1981 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, who grew up in Antigua and at sea since his memory. A love that has not been questioned even in the years of college, that the little Shannon spent in England and that led him to discover many other sports. On the contrary, the bond with boats and sailing was strengthened, as regattas were the main pastime of father and son when they saw each other during the summer holidays.
I lived and studied for 10 years in Lymington, which I discovered being one of the most important English cities in the world of sailing. However, I didn't like that kind of competition, the Olympic classes; it was cold, the weather was bad. At that time, I was playing rugby, hockey, a typical British sport that I was passionate about. Sailing remained a thing related to my home in Antigua. My mother is Irish and grew up in Kenya, I was born in England but a week later I was already in Italy with her. She lived here with my father, who was competing in a regatta on Lake Garda at the time. My first memories are of tortellini and nuns and, even though I only lived here for my first three years, it was enough to forge an important bond with this country. My roots are Italian, we always spoke Italian at home and in Italy I still had a large part of my family: uncles, cousins, grandparents.

The beginning of Shannon Falcone's adventure

As an adult, Shannon Falcone and his father Carlo took part in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Championships in the Star class, competitions that were the beginning of a long and successful journey in the world of sailing that would take him on six ocean crossings and a world tour. His debut in the America's Cup dates back to 2003 and saw him taking part in the competition with the team of Mascalzone Latino, but the "imprinting" with the most important race in the world in terms of regattas dates to 2000, with the first participation of Luna Rossa. The theatre was the waters of Auckland, which is why the 2021 race will be a real appointment with destiny for him.
I was in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2000. It was the year Prada won the Louis Vuitton Cup and challenged Team New Zealand for the America's Cup. I had also followed previous editions, I remember Il Moro di Venezia, but being there in person allowed me to perceive the enthusiasm that surrounded the challenge. Prada Challenge was the team I wanted to compete with, and I wanted to be part of it. I studied in England and made important friendships, but I never felt a bond comparable to the one I have with Italy.

Sailing and Italy were, therefore, in the destiny of Shannon Falcone, the result of a strong bond with his father Carlo who inevitably took him to where he is now.

As a boy I didn't spend much time with my parents, so sailing with them during the holidays was something beautiful and important, something that we did together and that bound us. When I came home, I knew we were going to go for some regattas, maybe to the Virgin Islands, it was always an adventure and I had a lot of fun. Antigua is an island with just 80,000 inhabitants, yet it is the country most present in the crews of the America's Cup: like me they all grew up with the teachings of my father, in this sense I was very lucky.
But luck alone is not enough. Shannon Falcone grew up with passion and determination, strengthening a physique that is remarkable today (196 centimetres high and weighing about 120 kilos) and playing all possible roles on board.

The best thing about sailing is that it's the only team sport that has to do with a craft. In Formula 1 and Moto GP there is only one pilot, here there are many of us and every role is fundamental to get the maximum performance from the boat. It's not enough to be good at your job, there's something deeper that leads a team to be a winner in the America's Cup, something that is related to communication, feedback, which is difficult to explain in words.

Shannon Falcone's experience

Family regattas and the unusual training in the world of sailing have meant that Shannon missed out on experiences in the Olympic classes, allowing him to deal with large boats from a very young age. A background that has formed the sailor capable of winning the America's Cup twice, good at adapting to the changes that have affected the classes competing in the competition.

As soon as I started, I was a tree man, a very special specific role that I loved because it involved great responsibilities, especially in unforeseen situations, when you didn't have to follow the manual, the pressure was very high and the team depended on you. Over time the roles changed, and I had to adapt accordingly.

Challenging your limits

If in the collective imagination we are led to see the world of sailing as sun, sea and breath-taking views. In reality, the life of those who practice this wonderful discipline is a constant challenge against their physical and mental limits. Winning the America's Cup, or even just touching it, is the conclusion of a series of tests that can only be overcome with enormous determination and passion.
For my second America's Cup my weight increased by 20 kilos, it was a hard and difficult path in which my coach followed me. When I got to my fourth appearance in San Francisco, to make the AC72 class boats perform better, I had to be lighter, so I had to weigh 100 kilos again from 125 kilos. There is no shortage of sacrifices, ours is both a job and a passion, and in this we are extremely lucky, it is not for everyone to have the office at sea. But it's not like in normal sports, where with 3-4 hours of work a day you're fine. We can’t be enough for 16 hours, repeated for weeks and without weekends off.

There is a saying that is extraordinarily true: "The only thing you can't buy in sailing is time".

Among the many sacrifices to make, diet is certainly very important, even if the experience gained over the years has allowed Falcone to know his body enough to be able to postpone for a few more days the inevitable and rigorous nutritional regime developed by the cook on board Manuel Sanna.
In Italy it is even harder to make certain sacrifices, but, as I say joking to the younger ones: "It's about peaking in the right time". It doesn't matter what your current shape is, what counts is what you will have at the time of the competition. The road is long, but I have faced worse in the past. Here in Cagliari I have my family, I have two young children, I can’t give up an ice cream with them. Especially if it's as good as what they do in Italy. Seriously, to reach the ideal weight, the diet has an importance to at least 80%. Then it depends a lot on what sailing is today: classes change, the boat must be designed, and you don't go straight to sea. But when it finally happens, someone like me can burn up to 8000 calories a day, which is like running two marathons.

Fortunately for the team, the days on the boat will be alternated with other days when the designers will develop the systems based on the feedback received. This will be an opportunity for Shannon and his teammates to keep fit with the equipment provided by Technogym, at least up to Auckland.

Shannon Falcone is now 38 years old and will be 40 when he returns to Auckland, where he was just over 18 years old and saw the America's Cup live for the first time, to try to win with Luna Rossa. His contribution of experience will be fundamental, he and the other award-winning members of the team will be responsible for leading the youngest, in whom he has the utmost confidence.

We have invested a lot in the "Next Generation" project, I will be one of the so-called "old" on board and I will have to try to pass on all my experience to the boys in the shortest possible time. Among them there are those who have never been on a sailboat before, they are talents capable of creating spatial numbers in the gym but who will have to put themselves to the test on the field. Unexpected situations can always arise in the water, which is why we "old people" are also needed.

An adventure that will see what Shannon jokingly calls "the old men" towing the younger ones with the aim of writing history together. Having won the America's Cup twice, faced as protagonist the incredible edition of 2013 ("It was like being on a rollercoaster, an emotion that will always remain imprinted within me"), Shannon Falcone wants one last great success with Luna Rossa.

I won the Cup twice with Oracle and I was very lucky. The first was a race regulated by the Deed of Gift, a circumstance that before then had occurred only in 1988, the second was as defender, but the emotions were certainly not missing. I may be a romantic but winning as a challenger is something else and even more so it would be nice to do it with Luna Rossa. I want to take revenge on Team New Zealand as in 2007 we lost the Louis Vuitton Cup to them in the final and for me that's still an open question. That's why I wanted to be there at all costs.

While not hiding the dream of winning a competition that sees the best teams in the world compete, Luna Rossa has not given up its Italian, Mediterranean soul, aiming to create a team that has now been living together for almost two years as a large extended family. In this, Shannon has found old racing companions with whom he has now established a relationship that goes far beyond work.

For Mr. Bertelli the family is important, and this is something that I also experienced outside the America's Cup, when our loved ones were involved in the events in which we took part. We created an important bond, everyone, but as far as I'm concerned, from 2003 to today I spent most of my time with Gillo (Gilberto Nobili), Jimmy (Spithill) and Max (Massimiliano "Max" Sirena), because we were all in Red Moon and then we moved with Oracle for the 2010 and 2013 campaigns. It often happens in our world, because understanding, communication and harmony are fundamental elements. We were together for 10 years, then we met for this new adventure.

If everything goes well, Shannon Falcone could even close the gap with the America's Cup.

Yes, if we win, I could drop the microphone, say goodbye to everyone, hasta luego, goodbye. I would like to close with a win, to do so after a defeat is an option that I do not even consider. Winning with Luna Rossa, then, would be the icing on the cake, after which I could not really ask for anything else, I am not one who must continue at all costs. I have many dreams, goals, I have a family to which I want to devote my time, just as they have dedicated it to me in recent years. I want to be the best father in the world for my children, be cool, listen to them with an open mind and encourage them to do what they want and dream. The teaching I would like to pass on to them? What made me successful in my world: working hard and playing as a team, always. So, nothing is impossible.

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