Byline: Associated Press/Bernie Wilson
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Two-time America’s Cup-winning skipper Jimmy Spithill is experiencing what many athletes in mainstream sports go through: free agency.
Odds are pretty good he’ll stay with Oracle Team USA, which staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports to defend the America’s Cup in September on San Francisco Bay.
But having won the America’s Cup twice before turning 35 makes Spithill a hot commodity.
During an appearance in San Diego, Spithill said that while he’s been in talks with software tycoon Larry Ellison to return to Oracle Team USA, he’s also had overtures from other syndicates as they scramble to fill key roles for the 35th America’s Cup, which probably won’t be sailed until 2017. He’d like to have an agreement in place within a few weeks.
“I’ve really enjoyed myself with the team. Larry Ellison, he and I are good friends, he’s a great teammate,” Spithill said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Larry. But also, I’ve been approached by a lot of teams and I need to weigh them all up. Larry and I are speaking and we’ll just have to see how things turn out.”
“But look, to be part of Oracle Team USA, to have won the Cup, to have defended it, back-to-back, has been really special. It’s been a great team to be involved with.”
Spithill certainly has leverage. At 30 years old in 2010, the Australian became the youngest skipper to win the America’s Cup when Oracle beat Alinghi of Switzerland. In September, he steered Oracle Team USA to its remarkable comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay, rallying from an 8-1 deficit to win 9-8.
“It’s a business. I’ve always looked up to athletes that are able to get the results on the sporting field and also are able to make really smart business decisions,” said Spithill, whose wife, Jennifer, is from San Diego.
Spithill spoke highly of Ellison during an interview and in a speech at the unveiling of the second phase of a sailing exhibit at the San Diego Hall of Champions.
“Look, I’d love to do the three-peat,” Spithill said. “It would be an incredible thing. With what Larry’s created, that event and the team, the cool thing now, Oracle Team USA is one of San Francisco’s star teams. It’s so cool to be part of that.”
Sailed in space-age 72-foot catamarans with a spectacular backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline, the 34th America’s Cup was the longest, fastest and wildest in the event’s 162-year history. Despite some rough times during the buildup, including the death of Bart Simpson when Artemis Racing’s catamaran capsized during training, the successful finish helped fulfill the goal of Ellison and Oracle Team USA CEO Russell Coutts to modernize the regatta.
Ellison has yet to decide if the America’s Cup will return to San Francisco, although Oracle Team USA is in talks with the city. The venue must be picked before other key decisions are made, such as the year, the kind of boat and the format.
Spithill said the concept and style of racing that made the 34th America’s Cup such a success will be back, although no one knows yet whether the 72-foot foiling catamarans will return, or if a smaller boat will be used. Organizers want to reduce costs to attract more teams. Only Oracle and four challengers entered the 34th America’s Cup.
“The good thing now that we didn’t have in the past is, we’ve got a track record,” Spithill said. “The discussions we’re having with the city and the networks, all of this was a concept, foiling catamarans, stuff like that. We didn’t even know what it was going to be like. But it worked so well — stadium sailing, the latest technology — it was a success. I think that really puts the event on a very, very good footing commercially. Hopefully, that can lead to an even better event, which I have no doubt about, the next time.”
Coincidentally, Spithill said the one team that hasn’t contacted him is the Australian challenger from Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
“But I just think it’s great to see them back in the game,” Spithill said. “There’s so much talent in Australia that they’ll be a very competitive team.”
Australia last challenged for the America’s Cup in 2000, when its low-budget effort was led by Spithill, who was then 20.