Spithill returns for UBS Challenge

The former Young Austalian may meet up with his boss and mentor Peter Gilmour at the UBS Challenge in Newport

Wednesday July 31st 2002, Author: Shawn McBride, Location: United States
With his victory earlier this month at the Trombini Match Race, OneWorld Challenge helmsman James Spithill took the early lead in the Swedish Match Tour 2002/3 Rankings.

This week Spithill competes in the Swedish Match Tour's UBS Challenge in Newport, RI, where he may face, among others, his boss, OneWorld Challenge skipper Peter Gilmour.

The Ravenna regatta was the first competition Spithill, age 23, and his crew of Ben Durham, Andy Feathers and Joe Newton had contested on the Swedish Match Tour since they finished fourth in Italy last July. Spithill and his mates, former members of the Young Australia Challenge for the 2000 America's Cup have instead been preoccupied with their preparations for the October 1 start of the Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland.

"We've been working pretty hard in Auckland for the past two years and it's been great because we've been getting a lot out of it," said Spithill. "We're pretty happy with how our whole program is coming along."

The OneWorld Challenge experience has been very different from his previous experience when he served, at the age of 21, as helmsman for Young Australia.
"There are so many differences I don't know where to begin," confessed Spithill. "It's been a big eye opener just to see the design, the engineering and all the people behind the scenes. With Young Australia you saw the sailing team in the spotlight and that's really all there was but with OneWorld there are just so many more people involved from the on-the-water crew to the office staff. There are so many cogs in the machine."

Spithill is also benefiting from working with four-time Cup veteran and three-time World Match Racing Champion Gilmour.

"I've learned a heap from working with Peter and not only just him but also the former Team New Zealand guys who are involved and all the Olympic medallists," said Spithill. "We're really fortunate to have such a diverse team with a mix of ages and nationalities with experiences from a number of former campaigns. It can be quite hard just to take it all in on a day-to-day basis.

"With Gilly, for myself, obviously we both steer so I've gained so much from him from his experience," continued Spithill. "It has been an apprenticeship in a way but also I've been very much involved in the preparations and process. It's a dream come true to work in a situation like this and learn from all these high quality sailors."

Gilmour is equally complimentary of his junior peer and offers interesting back-story of how the two came to work together.

"James was a talent from a young age. I can remember going to see him sail when he was 16 or 17 at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Sydney which was at the end of the street where I lived," stated Gilmour.

The two would meet again when Spithill approached Gilmour seeking career advice after Young Australia was eliminated in the 1999 Louis Vuitton Cup. "I told him to look at the successful players in the game, the (Paul) Cayards and Russell Coutts of the sport and see how they have developed as sailors.

"I also told him to go get a degree to develop his analytical skills, but of course he didn't listen to me and instead is following the path I took, getting experience on the job."

The decision to have Spithill join the OneWorld Challenge was cemented at the 2000 Nippon Cup when he and his crew pushed Gilmour and his Pizza La match race team to the limit in the finals.

"What James showed in that regatta, and the finals in particular, was a maturity beyond his age and a competitiveness and determination that hinted at his potential."

The partnership has flourished, "James will share helming duties with me throughout the America's Cup. He is very talented, faces adversity well and doesn't get too high or too low, all critical characteristics for competing in the America's Cup."

This week, however, the two are opponents at the Swedish Match Tour's UBS Challenge. Under the event format the earliest the two would face each other is the semifinals, if each should finish in the top two within their groups.

Should the two meet, all bets are off. "We'll put aside our friendship and do what needs to be done to win," said Gilmour. "Neither of us gives an inch during in-house training and we certainly won't here."

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