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Team USA’s Hans Henken Injured in Drama-Filled SailGP Weekend in Italy

What appeared to be a routine SailGP F50 catamaran nosedive for Jimmy Spithill’s Team USA in the third race of Season 4 in Taranto, Italy, turned dangerously serious as flight controller Hans Henken from Coronado was seriously injured and rushed to a local hospital after being knocked unconscious.

The seriousness of the incident became immediately apparent as Spithill Team USA’s SailGP Team driver and CEO radioed for SailGP medical assistance on the racecourse.

Henken was injured when the US SailGP Team’s F50 catamaran crashed off the foils and submerged the leeward hull, where Henken was positioned, knocking him unconscious for a short time. Spithill went to see his crew at the hospital after the incident, and reported back to the team that Hans was in good spirits. Henken stayed in the hospital one night for observation, and was released yesterday.

“He has a recovery road ahead of him,” said a US SailGP team representative.

SailGP’s Team USA took a massive nosedive, which injured flight controller Hans Henken.
© 2023 Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

“Clearly we were racing with a lot of purpose today,” said Spithill. “Without a doubt, this was the toughest event we’ve ever had as a team, given what happened with Hans yesterday. He sent us a message this morning to get out there and ‘crush it,’ and yeah, we did. I’m really thankful to the team for really focusing on the day and getting some good results.”

“I think this may have been the first time in my career that every single person was cheering for us,” said Spithill, referring to the solidarity shown by fans and competitors alike in support of Henken. “You always want to win, but I feel like we had the extra motivation and definitely the extra energy today.”

San Diegan Hans Henken will apparently be OK following a crash that knocked him unconscious.
© 2023 SailGP

Unfortunately, during the final race today the wind evaporated, leaving the powerful F50s parked. The 16-minute time limit elapsed, and despite the US leading, the race was terminated.

By some scoring miracle, Team USA made the podium finale and was leading when the race was abandoned due to lack of wind (sound familiar?) and the event win was awarded to Emirates Team GBR.

Third place was set to go to France, but when Canada pipped Quentin Delapierre’s team at the finish line in fleet Race 5, USA secured the third spot instead.

Emirates Team GBR took the win in Taranto, Italy, over the weekend after the winds forced the abandonment of the podium finale.
© 2023 Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

This weekend’s scoring sees New Zealand maintain its position on the overall season leaderboard. The Kiwis were granted an automatic fifth-place finish, and six compensatory points, after they were rendered unable to compete in the fourth event of the season late last week following the full structural failure of the team’s wingsail at the last event in Saint-Tropez. It was determined the league could not feasibly transport and fit out a replacement wingsail for the team in time for this weekend’s event. SailGP has now amended its rules so that up to six points can be awarded by the class authority for each of the events missed if a team sustains an equipment breakdown and it is not able to supply the necessary replacement parts to get the team back on the water.

New Zealand driver and co-CEO Peter Burling said he was disappointed that the decision was based on average points across the fleet, rather than the team’s performance so far this season.

“It’s frustrating that in this instance, organizers haven’t considered our performance in Chicago, Los Angeles and on day one in Saint-Tropez,” said Burling. “It means that on top of a bad result in Saint-Tropez because we weren’t able to compete on day two, we’re also now carrying a fifth heading into Cádiz and the rest of the season.

“At the same time, we’re ready to accept it and move on,” said Burling. “This is what’s been decided and it’s good to get something and have provisions in place if this were to happen again.”

Alongside race management, all team CEOs were consulted on the decision.

Helmed by Australian Jimmy Spithill, the US SailGP team makes a splash on Day 1 (this past Saturday), before the scary injury to Hans Henken. Check out the highlights here.
© 2023 Ricardo Pinto/ SailGP

Asked his views on whether the Kiwis should receive compensatory points for this weekend’s event, Australian driver and team CEO Tom Slingsby said he felt divided. “It’s a hard one to answer. Competitive Tom is saying ‘no and bad luck and move on,’ but realistic Tom is saying ‘I understand that they didn’t really make any mistake there.’”

Taylor Canfield will potentially fill in for Henken as flight controller in SailGP’s next event in Andalusia-Cádiz, Spain, on October 14 and 15.

We are all sincerely grateful and relieved that Henken will be OK. As in all forms of high-speed racing, it is exhilarating to watch, but sometimes it is incredibly dangerous to be a part of!

Hear Hans talk about his recovery and his 2024 Paris Olympics preparation in Good Jibes Episode #135.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Reid 10 months ago

    This afternoon from Hans Henken:
    “I’ve been released from the hospital in Taranto after three days of observation and tests, and I’ve been cleared to fly a short distance tomorrow. I’m recovering and I feel like I have been steadily improving every day.

    My focus right now is on following concussion protocol and soon will be starting physical therapy for the few upper body injuries that I sustained.

    I’d like to thank my USA SailGP team for the quick response at a critical time, and their ongoing support. They’re all awesome people and I’m grateful to be a part of the team. I’d also like to thank the amazing SailGP medical team for going above and beyond their duty in making sure I had everything I needed, and made me feel as safe and comfortable as possible, given the circumstances that I was in. Finally, I’d like to thank the Italian medical personnel that helped aid my recovery in the hospital.” – Hans

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