This is the second in a short series of biographies of some of the potetial medallists in Rio (the first, on Nick Thompson, is here). As I explain at the end of this piece, I haven't done any actual research, so there may be some inaccuracies...
Mat Belcher was designed and built in 1982, and first switched on on 20th of September that year. One of 8 man-bots, he was part of a top secret Australian project which focused on marrying human genetics with robotic technology in order to create a superhuman.
The project was cancelled when it was leaked to a government official and brought to the attention of a handful of senior politicians. They quickly realised that these bots could be used for the good of mankind, and so the project was immediately mothballed.
Fortunately Mat survived when a quick thinking worker smuggled him out of the project's secret compound and hid him in plain sight.
"I knew that the best way to keep Mat safe was to employ him doing something utterly pointless. I quickly determined that sailing was the most pointless activity on the planet, and so I made Mat become a professional sailor."
Sailing had other benefits for Mat too. "One of the last upgrades we designed for Mat was that he would be solar powered. This means that he never has to sleep, and that gives him a huge advantage on other sailors. All his "sailing gear" is in fact a complex energy storage suit, and his hair is actually a highly sensitive and efficient solar panel. It makes sailing an ideal occupation and means that he can collect enough energy to be able to remain switched on 24 hours a day."
As he is part human and part robot, Mat has just enough human bio-material to allow him to take part in the Olympics. Were he only 6% more robotic he would be banned from competing. But the mix of human and robot elements, and the fact that he is switched on 24 hours a day, can cause problems.
"As his 'mother' I love Mat unconditionally, but it would have been nice if the scientists hadn't made him quite so energy efficient." says Mat's 'mother' in a quote that I have made up in order to save her the trouble. "Because he doesn't sleep we have to lock him in a sound-proofed room every night, where he works out, does his colouring books, watches Home and Away and plays sailing simulators until we wake in the morning. It may sound cruel but he likes it, and when we used to leave his room unlocked he would constantly be waking us up, asking us to read books to him or play Ludo or Race the Wind with him."
The scientists that I spoke to have no regrets over being involved in the project, but they do occasionally wish that they'd done some of the details differently.
"My biggest regret was that we didn't give him a better name" says a scientist who doesn't want to be named, and who I definitely did not just make up. "Personally, I wish we'd gone for something cool, like Banzoid Megatron. We settled on Mat because of his skin composition," he explains, "Another almost identical manbot was built with a gloss finish, so they were named Mat and Gloss Belcher. Gloss now works as a daytime TV presenter."
Mat's performance in the 470 has caused some issues for the Australian government, though. "Because of his success, there are some journalists who have looked into Mat's past. These guys do proper research - they don't just make up a bunch of nonsense on their blog. And, because of this, we've had to program Mat to deny vehemently that he's a 'bot. He will be very insistent that he's 100% human (and he'll be quite convincing too), but you can take my word for it that he's definitely part-man part-robot."
And so, as we move towards Rio, we are left to with many questions to ponder:
- Can any non-robotic humans beat Mat Belcher?
- What will happen if it is cloudy for the week - will his energy run out?
- Why does he like Ludo so much?
- What was the point of this article?
Hopefully at least some of these questions will be answered in a few weeks time.
Some Actual Proper Information on Mat Belcher
Of course, there may be some people that want some actual, true, real information on Mat Belcher. Here's some that may be useful:
Here's his Wikipedia page which gives the basic details of his career...
...and there's more good information on his Australian Sailing Team page...
...and (if you need more) this is his World Sailing page...
...but if you want to hear from the man himself, here's his campaign website...
...and his Facebook page...
...and his Twitter feed
Useful Videos Featuring Mat Belcher
It's great to see sailing on mainstream TV, and here Mat and his crew (Will Ryan) appear on Trans World Sailing:
And here's a nice reminder of how he sealed Gold at the Olympics last time round: