Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing seal victory in 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race with one leg to go

Abu Dhabi's Azzam finished Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Thursday far enough ahead of their challengers to wrap up offshore sailing's most prestigious title – and an historic achievement for UAE sport.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racings skipper Ian Walker celebrates after clinching the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race victory on Thursday in Lorient, France. Ian Roman / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing / Volvo Ocean Race / June 11, 2015
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Not many men can claim to have tamed the oceans of this world, but on Thursday morning, the men of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam did just that.

Ian Walker, Azzam's skipper, and Adil Khalid, the only Emirati in the Volvo Ocean Race produced a landmark day in Abu Dhabi's sporting history, arguably the UAE's greatest sporting achievement.

The details are that Walker led Azzam to yet another podium finish, arriving third on the eighth leg of the Volvo race, from Lisbon to Lorient. More significantly, they finished two places ahead of Team Brunel, their closest challengers in the overall standings.

Read more: Osman Samiuddin on Adil Khalid's remarkable journey from sailing novice to champion

That meant Azzam extended their lead at the top of the overall standings to eight points: barring penalty points added to a last-place finish (or a non-finish) in the last leg, they cannot be caught.

"It is really, really a great moment," Khalid told The National from Lorient.

He was not part of the crew for this leg, having missed out with a recurrence of a stomach ailment that ruled him out of two previous legs, but he happily greeted the Abu Dhabi boat at the dock. And it remains a historic moment for him: the only Arab to have competed in the race now became the only one to have won the world’s toughest, most prestigious offshore sailing event.

“Actually, it is a great feeling for the whole of the UAE, the whole of Abu Dhabi and not just me,” he said. “The whole of the UAE has won the race, all of Abu Dhabi has won it. This is the result of the hard work not only of the Ador team but also the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.”

The podium finish meant that Azzam had finished in the top three in seven legs out of eight, winning two outright. Added to seven podium finishes out of eight in-port races, it totals up to an almost-freakishly consistent race for Abu Dhabi's team.

Walker’s plan was to finish on the podium in every leg, but the actual execution of it, in the unpredictable circumstances of a round-the-world ocean race, is another matter altogether and to have done it will go down as one of the race’s greatest performances.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Walker said moments after reaching the dock. “We crossed the finish line and it all went quiet. ‘Is that it? Have we done it’?”

He made reference to the difficult Volvo race of 2011/12, when Azzam finished fifth overall from six boats. Abu Dhabi remained true to Walker and commercial director Jamie Boag and were rewarded with overall victory three years later.

Walker said: “I have to thank the Tourism and Culture Authority for their support and for standing by Jamie and I after the disappointments of the last race. For it to come true, all the decisions and the trust in us, is wonderful.”

Abu Dhabi’s sailors had almost no trouble with Azzam, and Walker said: “The shore team has done a fantastic job. We’ve never broken anything in our boat.”

The leg turned out to be a significant one for the race as well, the all-women’s Team SCA winning it outright, and comfortably. That was the first leg win by an all-female crew in the race since 1989/90. Team Vestas Wind completed a return to the race by finishing second, remarkable given that a month ago, they did not have a boat. Last November they had to withdraw from the race after getting stuck on a reef in the Indian Ocean.

Those achievements, however, will be paled by Azzam's historic finish.


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