Aussie sailing legend Jimmy Spithill announces shock retirement after SailGP Dubai thriller

Australian sailing legend Jimmy Spithill has announced his retirement from SailGP after representing his country for the first time in more than 20 years.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the 44-year-old, who departed the United States SailGP team after it was bought out by new owners and announced he would be heading up a new Italian team in season five of the global sailing league.

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Stepping in for Australian driver Tom Slingsby, who missed the SailGP Dubai event as he awaits the birth of his first child, Spithill donned the green and gold for the first time in 23 years.

And he did a stellar job on the Flying Roo, steering Australia to a second place in a thrilling final race in Dubai that came down to a photo finish.

After just scraping into the final race, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all approached the very last turn of the race side by side as light winds in Dubai made for a hotly contested race.

All three boats turned the final marker side by side and the Canadian boat crossed the finish line first, only to be penalised for not giving the other boats enough room.

New Zealand had the right of way on the inside line heading into the final turn and were awarded the victory into the last marker.

It was the second event victory of the season for the Kiwis, who have jumped up to third place in the overall standings (40 points) behind Denmark (41) and Australia (52).

“What a great race, it was close the whole way through,” Spithill said.

“I’m happy that I gave them a decent result in the overall (standings) but I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win.”

The Aussies extended their lead at the top of the season four SailGP leaderboard, but are still searching for their first even win of the season despite making the finals for all six event so far.

Spithill announced on the water in Dubai his one-off cameo for Australia was his last ever race in SailGP.

“This is my last event as a SailGP athlete,” he said. “I’m basically retiring after this event.”

One of the most respected sailors in the world, it had been thought the two-time America’s Cup winner would skipper the new Italian team, but Spithill will take on more of a behind the scenes role with the new outfit.

Spithill said: “Clearly I’m going to be heavily involved in the Italian team running it, but I’m at the stage now where I need to let some new talent come through. It seems fitting to end it with this team.

“The last time I represented Australia was 23 years ago. So to complete the circle, complete this last event — it’s been one hell of a ride but that’s it for me.”

The United States team is eager to now have an all-American crew and Spithill told European teams were also heading in the same direction.

“You definitely want athletes from the nationality you’re representing but at the same time you also want to make sure you’ve got the best in the world out there,” he said.

“If you can get the majority, that’s fantastic and we’re starting to see that. The European countries especially have done an incredible job with their next generation of athletes that are coming through in high performance sailing and foiling.”

Spithill won’t be lost to sailing altogether. The match race specialist is also part of the Itaian Luna Rossa team that will challenge for America’s Cup glory next year.

There are seven events remaining in the SailGP season, which continues next month in Abu Dhabi.

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