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Skipper Spithill returns to cup champ Oracle

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February 05, 2014 | Leave Comment

SAN DIEGO — The chance to win a third straight America’s Cup with Oracle Team USA was a bigger allure to skipper Jimmy Spithill than taking a big-money offer from a foreign challenger.

Spithill announced Monday that he’ll be back with Oracle Team USA for the 35th America’s Cup, which is expected to be held in August 2017.

The 34-year-old Australian said his relationships with software billionaire Larry Ellison, who owns Oracle Team USA, and syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, a five-time cup winner, are important.

“It’s obviously great to be back,” Spithill told The Associated Press by phone from San Francisco. “There were some really great offers out there but I’ve been a part of this since Day 1, when we had our first win in 2010. Larry was a big part of it for me. He’s always sort of backed me up even in some tough times, and Russell. I wouldn’t be here without them. I want the opportunity, too, to potentially win three in a row as a skipper. This is really such a great team. I want to keep it going with them and I want to go for the three-peat.”

In 2010, Spithill, then 30, became the youngest skipper to win the America’s Cup when Oracle beat Alinghi of Switzerland in a two-race sweep off Valencia, Spain.

Spithill helped lead one of the greatest comebacks in sports when Oracle Team USA won eight straight races against Emirates Team New Zealand in the 34th America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay in September. The Kiwis reached match point at 8-1 before Oracle began its comeback.

Spithill said one of the syndicates that made a run at him was Italy’s Luna Rossa, which he skippered in the 2007 America’s Cup challenger series.

But Spithill said he wouldn’t be where he is today without Ellison and Coutts, a New Zealander who sailed unbeaten through three straight America’s Cup matches, for two different countries, before becoming Oracle Team USA’s CEO.

Spithill said Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp., “is a bit of a mentor but also a good mate. To get that relationship with someone like that, they’re probably few and far between in a lifetime. It’s the same with Russell. They’re obviously both tough guys and competitors, but are very fair. That’s the kind of environment I enjoy working in. They give you kind of the burden of trust. They’re not micro-managers. It’s a kind of environment in which you get opportunities, and that allows you to grow.”

Despite being funded by Ellison’s fortune, Oracle Team USA had a rough buildup to the last America’s Cup.

Spithill was at the wheel of the team’s first 72-foot catamaran when it capsized on San Francisco Bay in October 2012, costing Oracle nearly four months of training time.

Last August, the team was snared in one of the biggest cheating scandals in America’s Cup history when it was revealed it had illegally modified boats in warm-up regattas. Four days before the America’s Cup match began, Oracle Team USA was docked two points and a key sailor was booted from the team. Oracle struggled badly against Team New Zealand before making a key crew change and refining its sailing technique to take advantage of its boat’s clear speed advantage.

Coutts cited Spithill’s leadership on and off the water.

“I’m certainly happy that he decided to come with us and I know that Larry is, as well,” Coutts said by phone from New Zealand. “I for one will never forget how he led that team on the water in those critical races. What a tower of strength he was in that final. Psychologically, I think he was incredibly tough through that time. His attitude was infectious and it pulled everyone along with him.”

Spithill thinks it will be tough to defend the cup again.

“I think the challengers this time will be stronger than ever,” he said Monday. “The event commercially is in a place it’s never been before. The comeback was a huge part of that. When people tuned in, they were blown away by the product. There’s a lot of interest. We need to develop a very good program as defender.”

Unhappy with terms being offered by San Francisco for the next regatta, America’s Cup officials are looking at Hawaii, San Diego and other venues. The 35th America’s Cup is expected to be sailed in 60-foot catamarans with a crew of eight in order to cut costs.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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