Andrew Gourdie: America's Cup 2017: Thank God for Jimmy Spithill


OPINION: Whatever happens over the coming days in Bermuda, New Zealand sports fans should be thankful for Jimmy Spithill.

Sport needs rivalry. Rivalries are built on famous battles, and the quality players and strong characters who play the lead roles in them. Every protagonist needs an antagonist, every hero needs a villain. These adversaries make us care about sport

They make us want to win. Badly. But as much as we want to win, there's also a big part of us that simply wants to see them lose.

For us Kiwis, they're usually Australian. George Gregan, Sharelle McMahon and countless Aussie cricketers.

The chant of "four more years," from Christchurch 1999… we hear it all the bloody time.

All of these players rubbed us up the wrong way at some stage or another during their careers and gave us sporting memories we'd rather forget.

But the thing that unites them all is they're just so damn good. It's the respect for their ability and sporting feats that makes the rivalry special. Add the Oracle skipper to the list.

To face the media at 8-1 down in San Francisco and respond to a question about how to inspire his team with "I think the question is: Imagine if these guys lost from here?" takes balls.

Spithill has always been in the thick of the action, using the stage and the microphone to engage in these off-water tacking duels with pointed comments, cutting remarks, and the odd reminder of past glories.

With his competition sitting alongside, we witness the reaction of the other helmsmen as he plants seeds of doubt for anxious fans back home who fear another Oracle comeback.

It's sporting theatre at its finest. He plays the game to perfection.

For Kiwis, he's added an enormous layer of intrigue to this regatta. Imagine if it was Ben Ainslie, Nathan Outteridge or even Dean Barker at the helm for Oracle? It just wouldn't be the same.

His bold, brash Aussie style's also been at complete odds with Peter Burling's quintessential kiwi persona. The contrast with Spithill's personality actually makes us love Burling even more.

I've loved following the action in Bermuda, and everything that Spithill has contributed to an astonishing regatta that's revolutionised the America's Cup.  It has truly become a spectator sport.

But if you'll excuse the schadenfreude Jimmy, I can't wait to see you lose. Hopefully see you in Auckland, maybe sailing for your own country, in four years' time. 

Andrew Gourdie is a presenter and sports reporter for Newshub.