America’s Cup: New Reality for Rivals

Published on October 15th, 2015

There was a time in America’s Cup lore when any work between challenger and defender was tantamount to treason. But now, defender Oracle Team USA is providing the boat design for a new Japanese team led by kiwi skipper Dean Barker. In a report for The New York Times, Christopher Clarey presents this new reality…

Hamilton, Bermuda (October 15, 2015) – As Oracle Team USA polished off one of the greatest comebacks in any sport in the last America’s Cup, even eye contact became difficult for Jimmy Spithill, Oracle’s skipper, and Dean Barker, his counterpart at Emirates Team New Zealand.

“Both of us I think wanted to rip each other’s throat out,” Spithill said.

Little more than two years later, Spithill and Barker share office space in a recently renovated 19th-century warehouse in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda as they prepare for this week’s Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series regatta on the Great Sound.

They chat amicably over lunch, exchange ideas at the weekend barbecue pit and chide each other — like many an Australian and New Zealander on friendly terms — over the results of the Rugby World Cup. Spithill even has sneaked a few Australian wallaby stickers into Barker’s workspace.

“I think Jimmy needs to sort of concentrate a bit more on the sailing and a little bit less on the rugby,” said Barker, now the skipper and chief executive for the new challenger SoftBank Team Japan.

All this adds up to quite a mood swing for the star helmsmen with contrasting personalities who were rivals long before Oracle’s 2013 fight-back for the annals from a 1-8 deficit in San Francisco.

All Barker and Team New Zealand needed was one more victory to secure the Cup, fly it back to Auckland and lounge in the afterglow of an upset victory over the lavishly funded defender owned by the American billionaire Larry Ellison.

Instead, with Spithill setting the never-say-sink tone, Oracle proceeded to win eight straight races, finding a way to foil consistently upwind and retain the oldest major trophy in sports.

“Despite what many New Zealanders think, there was no silver bullet; I wish there was so we could use it this time,” Spithill said. “The answer was it was a lot of little things.”

The outcome was one part exhilarating victory, one part crushing defeat. And the two men who symbolized each team’s improbable journey were the cocksure Spithill and the understated Barker, who looked every bit as stricken in defeat that sunny September afternoon in 2013 as one would expect.

“I think it will always haunt me, just that sort of unfinished business,” Barker said in an interview last week at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. “But you have to be able to take the lessons from it and move on because you end up being a grumpy man if you dwell on it too much. – Full report

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