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Spithill hopes to ‘smoke’ Team USA in SailGP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Some big SailGP rivalries will heat up when the global league returns to Dubai this weekend, including a one-off between the new-look Team USA and its former skipper, Jimmy Spithill.

Spithill is filling in as helmsman of Team Australia’s “Flying Roo” foiling catamaran while friend and countryman Tom Slingsby is on paternity leave. Spithill left Team USA two weeks ago ahead of the announcement that it had been sold to a private American group whose investors include Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner and actress Issa Rae.

“No question, I’d love to go out and absolutely smoke those guys,” Spithill said Friday. “But at the same time, one thing that we’ve all learned in SailGP is that if you focus on just one team, you can easily find yourself back in last or second last. You just can’t get caught up worrying about one team in this sort of racing.”

This is the first regatta since Spithill steered the American catamaran to its first victory of Season 4 in Spain nearly two months ago. While wanting to beat his old squad, he’ll also be looking to keep the three-time defending SailGP champion Aussies, who won in Dubai last season, on top of the leaderboard in the 10-boat fleet. The Aussies, who haven’t won a regatta so far in Season 4, lead Denmark by seven points. Team USA, now skippered by match-racing ace Taylor Canfield, is another four points back in third.

After fleet racing Saturday and Sunday, the top three boats advance to the podium race.

This will be the first time Spithill has sailed for his home country since 2001. Since then, he’s become one of the world’s top sailors by twice winning the America’s Cup for Oracle Team USA and reaching the match two other times, including in 2021 with Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team.

“It’s been about 20 years since I put on the beautiful green and gold, so it’s an exciting time,” Spithill said. “It’s a fantastic team, let’s face it, it’s the benchmark team of SailGP. I’m just trying to transition in as seamlessly as possible.”

Canfield, who has sailed with Team USA on and off over the last few years, said it’s “an incredible opportunity for myself and team, and the new investors. It’s a little bit overwhelming but it’s going to be a fun journey.”

Ben Ainslie and Peter Burling will be back on the water for the first time since an aggressive move by Ainslie’s Emirates Great Britain kept New Zealand from reaching the podium race in Spain. Kiwi wing trimmer Blair Tuke yelled at Ainslie on the water, and Ainslie later called the Kiwis “arrogant.”

“I think what happens on the playing field stays out there,” said Burling, the two-time reigning America’s Cup champion helmsman and a three-time Olympic medallist. “We enjoy that rivalry we have with the British.”

Ainslie remains unapologetic.

“I think the great thing about Cádiz was you just saw how much it meant to us as sailors,” said Ainslie, a former America’s Cup champion and the most decorated sailor in Olympic history. “It gave everyone a bit of a laugh but it shows how much emotionally we invested in it.”

Team USA driver Jimmy Spithill speaks during an interview at the Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix on July 21 at the Port of the Los Angeles. PHOTO: AP