Sailing

Jimmy Spithill sets himself America’s Cup mission

© Sander van der Borch
After holding on to the America’s Cup for years, Jimmy Spithill and ORACLE Team USA lost their title to Emirates Team New Zealand in June 2017. He’s now on a mission to win it back.
By Ben GladwellPublished on
One of the greatest sporting movie quotes of all time comes from the Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa; “It’s not how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” But how do you do that? How do you move forward from the hardest hit of your sporting career?
Jimmy Spithill, skipper for ORACLE Team USA, poses for portraits in San Francisco Sept. 19, 2012.
Jimmy Spithill
Rewind four years and Jimmy Spithill was the posterboy for ORACLE Team USA’s 2013 America’s Cup triumph – heralded as the greatest comeback in all of sport. He and his crew won nine consecutive races from the hitherto unstoppable Emirates Team New Zealand. Yet in Bermuda less than two months ago, he suffered the biggest loss of his career – watching the most treasured prize in all of sailing, the America’s Cup, foil away and back to New Zealand. For Jimmy, it meant not just a disappointment, but a paradigm shift; his America’s Cup bubble had burst, and the hunted now became the hunter.
Jimmy Spithill helming OTUSA 17 in Hamilton, Bermuda.
Jimmy Spithill driving OTUSA 17 like he stole it
We sat down with Jimmy to learn more about this shift and what it takes to over come one of the hardest moments in his career.

What is it like to lose an America’s Cup?

Now Emirates Team New Zealand can celebrate.
ETNZ celebrates America's Cup win
Losing the America's Cup is one of the toughest things I have ever experienced. It is hard to put it into words. It is a real empty feeling. For me, one of the worst things is letting people down, and that is how I left this America’s Cup. Feeling, that ultimately, I let all my team-mates down. I have got to embrace that. You have got to feel the pain somewhat and use that to motivate you and to learn the lessons.

What is it like getting outside of the America’s Cup bubble?

Frustrations mount as ORACLE Team USA are now 0-3 in the America's Cup finals.
ORACLE Team USA splash down
At the end of every America’s Cup campaign, regardless of whether you win or lose, there is always a period of somewhat depression. You go from having a routine: you get up, go to training, go out on the water, all your meals are planned, you get used to operating right on the edge; then at the end of the campaign, it stops. You wake up and you don’t know what to do with yourself. You think, ‘well what do I do now?’ It takes some time to be able to wind down and go back to normal family life.

How did you reflect on the loss?

ORACLE TEAM USA skipper James Spithill pictured on Day 1 of the 35th America's Cup finals in Hamilton, Bermuda on June 17, 2017.
Jimmy Spithill was philosophical after defeat
After such a long campaign with so much on the line, when you’re on the losing end you have to make sure that you reflect on the experience. You want to learn from it and make sure you grow stronger from it so you can come back and have the chance to race again for it. I think what I have come back with is that [in our campaign] we were too conservative and I didn’t go with my instincts enough.

How has your role within the America’s Cup changed now?

Jimmy Spithill, despite losing, remained a good sportsman.
Spithill thumbs up after AC loss
Being the defender, you have a target on your back. Every single one of those teams wants to take you down. And now we find ourselves in the position where we are one of the teams now – we are chasing the defender.

Will you now be one of the hunters?

We will definitely be chasing this America’s Cup .
ORACLE TEAM USA and Emirates Team New Zealand compete closely on Day 1 of the 35th America's Cup finals in Hamilton, Bermuda on June 17, 2017.
OTUSA and ETNZ mid-race restart

What does the future have store?

We want to go and get that Cup back. When you’ve been involved with a great group of people, especially a successful team, it is addictive. It does become an obsession. Once you get the taste of it, you want to taste it again.
OTUSA hunting down ETNZ during Day 2 of the 35th America's Cup finals in Bermuda on June 18, 2017.
OTUSA on the hunt during Day 2

What role do you see women playing in the America’s Cup moving into the future?

I think the America’s Cup is so physical now, it’s right up there with a lot of mainstream sports. Having said that, you only have to look at the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup to see some of the teams sailing with women being successful. There are definitely roles onboard – certainly steering and skippering the boat – that don’t require such a big physical side, and it would not surprise me at all to see women in the America’s Cup in the future.

What is the best thing the sailing world can do in the next four years?

ORACLE TEAM USA grinding at max to get some edge over Emirates Team New Zealand
OTUSA working hard and hoping for a comeback
Think forwards. Think about the next generation. And the best way to do that is to speak to the next generation of sailors and see what they want to do. To look to the future, you need to speak to the future and that’s the kids.
Jimmy Spithill’s Chasing the Cup: My America’s Cup Journey is available now at retailers and online in hardcover and Kindle editions.