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British Olympic champ killed

2013-05-10 09:01
Andrew "Bart" Simpson, right (AFP)

San Francisco - Tributes poured in for Olympic medal-winning Briton Andrew "Bart" Simpson, who died when a Swedish catamaran capsized on Thursday while training for the upcoming America's Cup races.

Simpson, who was 36, won gold in the keelboat star class at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and a silver in the same category at last year's London Games.

He died when he got trapped underwater after the Artemis Racing boat capsized in San Francisco Bay during training for the America's Cup races, which run from July through to September.

"We're devastated... Andrew is someone I've worked closely with since the age of 16. He was a great talent," said John Derbyshire, performance director of Britain's Royal Yachting Association (RYA).

"He was a huge inspiration to others, both within the British Sailing Team and across the nation and our deepest sympathies go out to his family at this terrible time."

The Briton - nicknamed after "The Simpsons" character - started sailing at the age of six, first in the Laser class before switching to the Finn single-handed class boat in his mid-20s.

He "plugged away for many years" behind British sailing colleagues Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, a childhood friend, according to his Team GB profile for last year's London Olympics.

Simpson and Percy met when they were seven, and played Lego together when not sailing. Percy was best man at his wedding, according to the BBC.

Facing domination by Ainslie, Simpson teamed up with Percy in 2007 in the Star class and the duo won World Championship bronze.

The next year, they won gold in Beijing, and Simpson was honored with an MBE, a top royal honor in his homeland.

Simpson listed British cricket great Ian Botham as his sporting hero, and was a big fan of the Tottenham Hotspur football club.

The Swedish team announced his death on its website, saying he was "trapped underneath the boat and despite attempts to revive him, by doctors afloat and subsequently ashore, his life was lost."

He was a member of an 11-man crew aboard Artemis Racing's AC72 catamaran. All other crewmembers were accounted for.

Tributes were not confined to sailing colleagues.

Clive Woodward, former director of sport at the British Olympic Association, tweeted: "Totally shocked - thoughts with his family."

Olympic silver medalist windsurfer Nick Dempsey also took to Twitter to say: "Going to miss you Bart," while Luke Patience, a silver medalist yachtsman at London 2012, said: "Devastated. Bart, you are a true inspiration."

"Andrew was a fantastic sailor who got the best out of everyone he sailed with. He was much loved and will be sorely missed by everyone in our close-knit team," said RYA Olympic manager Stephen Park.

Artemis Racing chief executive Paul Cayard looked shell-shocked when he made a brief dockside statement in San Francisco, saying the whole team was "devastated by what happened."

"It's a shocking experience to go through, and we have a lot to deal with in the next few days in terms of assuring everybody's well-being," he said.

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