Oracle Team U.S.A.‘s come-from-behind triumph in the 34th America’s Cup, a surge from seven points back in a first-to-nine contest, is already the stuff of sports history. For Jimmy Spithill, Australian-born Yankee skipper, the last week has been a blur of parties and TV appearances. The world’s winningest captain showed up the worse for wear on ‘Good Morning America‘ after hanging out with Maroon 5 and the Black Keys at a concert held – in his team’s honor – on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
“I was struggling to walk when we had to go at 4 am to the taping of ‘Good Morning America.’ They basically refused to mic two of us up,” Spithill told ‘Men’s Journal’ last week after sobering up and flying to New York for a press tour. “When you finally [stop], you go into a depression. . . . You’re not in the gym every morning. You’re not with the boys. You don’t know what to do with yourself.”
Spithill is at sea precisely because he spent every last drop of his energy securing a victory for Larry Ellison and his team. Even after three years of intense, military-style training, the final push still proved to be devastatingly draining, both physically and emotionally. Dirk de Ridder, Spithill’s wing trimmer, was kicked off the team only four days before the race as a penalty for cheating (a team member had put an extra five pounds of weight in the hull of a practice boat).
“I was convinced someone had set us up,” said Jimmy, defending the honor of his “close mate,” whom he refuses to blame for the disruption and the loss of two points prior to the beginning of the race. “In life, you just move on.”
That mentality came into play during the completion as the point spread expanded. Spithill jokes now that he’d had Emirates Team New Zealand “right where we want[ed] them,” when the Kiwis were beginning to celebrate what looked like an inevitable victory. He didn’t, though the looming failure allowed him to offer his crew something more appealing than a win – a shot at making history.
“In the end, I just thought, well, what if they lose from here?” said Spithill. “They think they’ve got it in the bag, but what if they lost from here and we pulled this off? Wouldn’t that be the greater thing to be a part of?”
The turning point came when Spithill figured out how to foil upwind, reducing his boat’s drag by lifting his catamaran’s two 72-foot hulls out of the water on their daggerboards. With their boat literally flying inches above the water, the members of Team America suddenly found themselves looking over the stern at their competition.
“When we finally figured it out, it was like in the movies when you push the turbo boost button,” said Spithill. “We cracked the code. That was when we all knew we had the boat to win.”