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Spithill vying for America's Cup greatness

NZN 16/06/2017 Warren Barnsley

James Spithill is the verge of sailing greatness.

Already the only Australian to win the America's Cup twice as captain, he can become just the fourth skipper in the event's 166-year history to win three times in a row.

But standing in the Team USA helmsman's way is a formidable Team New Zealand crew desperate for revenge after Spithill broke their hearts four years ago.

After three weeks of qualifiers won by the Kiwis, the 35th America's Cup will be fought over 13 races between 50-foot catamarans speeding along the turquoise waters of Bermuda's Great Sound.

The first two races will be held on Saturday.

Team USA are two-time defending champions.

They claimed sailing's marquee regatta in 2010 under Spithill, who became the youngest skipper to win the America's Cup at 30, beating Switzerland's Alinghi in Spain.

In 2013, Spithill led the USA to one of the greatest comeback wins in sporting history when they fought back from 8-1 down to beat New Zealand in the best-of-17 series in San Francisco.

"If Jimmy wins his third consecutive America's Cup, he'll go into the history books, not just in Australia, but internationally," 1983 Sydney to Hobart winner Matt Allen, now chief executive of Sailing Australia, told AAP.

"He would be following in the footsteps of (America's Cup Hall of Fame inductee) Grant Simmer, who has won the Cup three times, so it's good company to be keeping.

"However, three consecutive wins as skipper, well that's hard to beat.

"He has grit and determination and we all saw how he led his team in 2013 to come back from 8-1 down to win, that was a show of real focus and tenacity and someone who has the respect and trust of his crew."

Spithill's crew, including Australian tactician Tom Slingsby, flexed their muscle in the early stages of this year's race by winning the qualifying series and will start against New Zealand with a one-point advantage.

The performance snuffed out any suggestions the Americans would give up their crown easily.

"What's done in history's done, and it's about this America's Cup," Spithill said last month ahead of qualifiers.

"The hunger has only become stronger and somewhat of an obsession as well. We're even more obsessed with this."

New Zealand, who have reached the final round for the sixth time in the past seven editions, are led by captain Peter Burling, a Rio Olympics gold medallist.

They beat Australian Nathan Outteridge's Swedish team Artemis Racing convincingly in the challengers' final.

And they have an X-factor in the form of their innovative "cyclor" grinding system - four stationary cycling stations into each hull to tap leg power instead of traditional arm power from the grinders.

Australian John Bertrand, who in 1983 snapped the New York Yacht Club's 132-year America's Cup winning streak, has been impressed by Team NZ.

"They're tough," Bertrand said.

"It's part of their DNA; it's like the All-Blacks.

"It's of national importance to the country of New Zealand that this team is successful, which I think is just wonderful.

"That's to the heart. That's part of the motivation here."

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