Dean Barker and Jimmy Spithill - the odd couple of the America's Cup

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill and Team Japan's  Kiwi boss Dean Barker join forces in Bermuda.
ORACLE TEAM USA

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill and Team Japan's Kiwi boss Dean Barker join forces in Bermuda.

They're the odd couple of the America's Cup, fierce foes who have turned into firm friends.

Opposites attract and after a cup rivalry that dates back to 2003 but reached epic proportions in 2013, Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker now find themselves in a de facto relationship.

"Pitbull" Spithill and Barker, more like your friendly labrador whose bark might be worse than his bite.

The body language and separation says it all as Jimmy Spithill slowly but surely wore down Dean Barker on and off the ...
GETTY IMAGES

The body language and separation says it all as Jimmy Spithill slowly but surely wore down Dean Barker on and off the water during the remarkable 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco.

They will still line out against each other, Spithill looking for his third consecutive cup victory at the helm of Oracle, and Barker extending a long career in the sport's toughest game with his switch from Team New Zealand to new syndicate Team Japan.

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When Barker was controversially dumped by the Kiwis after giving up an 8-1 lead to Spithill to lose in San Francisco four years ago, he was quickly shoulder-tapped by America's Cup and Oracle boss Sir Russell Coutts to head the Japanese outfit.

Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker chat during the New York stop of the world series last year.
REUTERS

Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker chat during the New York stop of the world series last year.

Oracle magnate Larry Ellison eventually brokered the deal, eager to expand the small cup fleet and crucially bring in the Asian market. Barker, with his wide knowledge on and off the water, was seen as the ideal front man, both in the front office as CEO and on the wheel of the radical foiling catamaran.

But it was seen as something of an unholy alliance with the defenders supplying a new challenger design and technology. The feeling lingers that Team Japan have been an Oracle surrogate, a comfortable way for the defender to have a regular training partner in the crucial area of development.

With its balmy weather and clear, tropical waters, Bermuda feels half a world away from the cool wind changes that hit at any moment on the murky San Francisco Bay.

Dean Barker can't hide his delight as Australian Jimmy Spithill is forced to don an All Blacks jersey over a 2015 Rugby ...
JAMES SPITHILL/FACEBOOK

Dean Barker can't hide his delight as Australian Jimmy Spithill is forced to don an All Blacks jersey over a 2015 Rugby World Cup final bet.

And it's a distant memory from the icy blasts that Spithill regularly directed at Barker, taunting him daily as the cocky Aussie engineered one of the greatest comebacks in sport with his never-say-die attitude.

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Barker had few answers in the media room and was just as helpless on the water as Oracle out-thought the Kiwis at their own game of foiling.

"Both of us I think wanted to rip each other's throat out," Spithill told the New York Times recently has he looked back at that seemingly never-ending tussle.

They may be mates these days but Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker will still be battling each other for the Auld Mug.
REUTERS

They may be mates these days but Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker will still be battling each other for the Auld Mug.

The scars are there for Barker, who is no stranger to irony in this business. Remember it was Coutts who handed him the helm for the glory of the final cup-securing race in Auckland in 2000 and then returned three years later with Swiss outfit Alinghi to demolish his protege and rip the trophy off Team New Zealand.

But nothing compares to what Spithill managed when Barker needed only one more win to taste the champagne from sport's oldest trophy.

"I think it will always haunt me, just that sort of unfinished business," Barker said.

"But you have to be able to take the lessons from it and move on because you end up being a grumpy man if you dwell on it too much.

"Obviously it hurt. It hurt a hell of a lot, because when you put everything into it, you never think of the consequences of not winning. If you are not successful, it leaves a big black hole there, and you obviously need to work hard to figure out how you are going to fill that void."

Just when it seemed that opportunity had been taken from him with his Kiwi demise the Japanese lifeline came.

"It certainly didn't take a lot of convincing. My heart is very much in the America's Cup," Barker, 44, said.

Spithill was delighted. He spoke out about Barker's surprise dumping at the time and still sees him as "a guy who is incredibly loyal and a guy who doesn't have an ego".

Spithill believes their battles have helped strengthen their respect for each other.

"I think afterward you both reflect a little bit on what the other guy went through, because you are the only two who really know," Spithill told the New York Times.

Barker was quick to get over the initial awkwardness of the new situation and appreciative to be given a head start with his rookie syndicate.

"When I first came to Bermuda to get this thing underway, it felt quite unusual walking into the Oracle base and seeing all the people we were head to head with two years ago. To actually get to know some of those guys, it's been incredibly refreshing for me," Barker said.

He added that they wouldn't be competitive without the input from Oracle.

"You'd never catch up or close that gap."

Barker has brought some key Kiwi personnel with him, including former Team New Zealand design boss Nicky Holroyd whose innovative foil work will be a key to the Japanese outfit putting their own signature on the speed quest.

Jeremy Lomas, Derek Saward and Winston Macfarlane are other Team New Zealand sailors now alongside Barker.

The Japanese, with their Oracle assistance, are proving competitive in the build to the May 27 start of cup racing.

Oh how Barker would love to get one back over his old team. And just quietly, how he would undoubtedly like a bit of revenge over Spithill.

It's unlikely. But this America's Cup is an odd business. Barker and Spithill know that better than anyone.

 - Stuff

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