He’s the one they call “Paddles.” The nickname was all but inevitable for U.S. Olympic kayaker-turned-grinder Tim Hornsby (Atlanta, GA), one of the elite athletes recruited from a broad range of sporting backgrounds to help power New York Yacht Club American Magic in pursuit of the 2021 America’s Cup.
Hornsby represented the United States in the 200m Canoe Sprint kayaking event at the London 2012 Games, and narrowly missed selection for both Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016. Training for years to achieve an optimal balance of power, weight, endurance and speed, sprint kayaking athletes are ideally suited for boosting Cup contenders.
American Magic has two sailors that come from the kayaking world, with both Hornsby and four-time Olympian, World Champion and 2017 Louis Vuitton Cup veteran Anders Gustafsson (Jönköping, Sweden) on the roster.
Of the eleven sailors onboard the team’s AC75 racing boat, DEFIANT, eight are tasked nearly full time with “grinding,” the process of generating the immense hydraulic pressure needed to operate an AC75’s systems.
An innovative pedal-based grinding approach, the “cyclor” system, helped win New Zealand the Cup in 2017. With cyclors banned for Auckland 2021, the focus has returned to the hand-turned pedestals that have been found onboard racing yachts for decades. This time, though, those pedestals are powering a nine-ton hydrofoiling monster without precedent in the 169 year history of the America’s Cup.
A kid from a landlocked American city might seem like an unlikely candidate to ascend to the pinnacle of two water-based sports, but Hornsby was drawn to boats from an early age.
“I was kind of a weird kid in that I was always into what could be described as ‘not your mainstream sports,’” he recalled. “I lived in Atlanta, so there wasn’t a lot of water there, and I was trying to look for opportunities to be involved in watersports.
“I ended up going to a summer camp for kayaking when I was pretty young, around 11. That camp was at the Atlanta 1996 Games venue, and it turned out that the Canadian Olympic coach had been hired. It was really inspirational. He helped convince me to make the hour-long drive each way to go to this training facility and pursue an Olympic dream.”
Hornsby’s Olympic career was highlighted by many national titles, a 2012 Games appearance, World Cup medals, U.S. records, and more. But after a serious injury derailed his Team USA selection for Rio at the last minute, another challenge beckoned.
“A good kayaking friend of mine, Anders, who is now my teammate with American Magic, was competing for Artemis in 2017,” explained Hornsby. “During that whole Rio 2016 Olympic cycle, I was living with his family. Anders would come back from America’s Cup training, and tell us all about it.” – Read on