Rivalry for the ages

Published on May 6th, 2016

New York, NY (May 6, 2016) – Once teammates who worked together to stage one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport, Sir Ben Ainslie and Jimmy Spithill are now rivals.

Spithill was the skipper and Ainslie the tactician when ORACLE Team USA rallied from an 8-1 deficit to win the 2013 America’s Cup, 9-8. Ainslie had been the team’s trial helmsman, warming Spithill up in pre-race drills, but after Race 5 Spithill tabbed Ainslie to come aboard and the historical comeback was underway.

Now, the one-time skipper-tactician pairing stares across the start line at each other. Spithill is still skipper of ORACLE Team USA but Ainslie is skipper of his own team, Land Rover BAR. Ainslie has set out to win the trophy for the country that first began the contest in 1851, a feat that England has never accomplished despite numerous tries. Ainslie was reminded of this fact by NBC Sports personality Bob Costas at yesterday’s opening press conference for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series New York.

“Thanks for reminding me,” said Ainslie. “It’s quite irritating. It’s fantastic for the America’s Cup to be in New York. I think the last time here was in 1920 with Sir Thomas Lipton as the British challenger versus the Americans. Our goal is very much to bring the Cup back to England where it all started. It’s been 165 years of hurt.”

Ainslie is one of the all-time great Olympic sailors, having won four gold medals and a silver in two singlehanded classes, Laser and Finn, where success and failure all rides on his decision making. His America’s Cup team has 120 people from sailing to design, shore to support teams within the team.

“With a Cup team it’s about communication and getting great people. That’s the key to a Cup team,” said Ainslie. “It’s the ultimate team sport. Getting all of that working together is the trick. My Olympics background as singlehanded was different approach.”

From Spithill’s point of view, having his former tactician as a rival is motivation, not a threat.

“It’s about time we have a team from the U.K., and what better timing for Ben and the team he’s assembled than now,” said Spithill. “He’s got a winning track record in singlehanded boats. You’d say the biggest step here is being the skipper of a big team. That’s a big change for him.”

Ainslie feels it’s harder to win the America’s Cup as opposed to Olympic gold because of all the people involved, but he’s got more than just the 2013 Cup in his back pocket as experience. He also was with teams in the lead-up to the 2003 and 2007 America’s Cups as a trial helmsman.

“My background is as a singlehanded sailor in Olympic classes, but I’ve also spent a lot of my career with different Cup syndicates learning how to part of a team, how to build a team, a successful team,” said Ainslie. “This group of challengers is a competitive group of teams. They’re all hugely talented and well resourced. It will be very, very tough. It’s about getting a great team in place and overcoming the technical challenges. I think we’ve developed a great team to do that next year.”

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