'Heck of a competitor' — Team NZ's Blair Tuke fondly recalls 'awesome fights' with Jimmy Spithill

After snatching America's Cup glory again this week, Emirates Team New Zealand flight controller Blair Tuke offered plenty of praise today for Luna Rossa's Australian hired gun, helmsman and "heck of a competitor" Jimmy Spithill.

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The Emirates Team New Zealand flight controller says he and the Australian yachtsman have had some "awesome fights" over the years. Source: Breakfast

The Kiwi team beat Italy's Luna Rossa 7-3 in the 36th America's Cup on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour on Wednesday.

Spithill — who broke Kiwi sailing fans' hearts while at the helm of Oracle Team USA in 2013, when he engineered an astounding comeback to beat Team New Zealand — was quick to congratulate his Kiwi competitors this week after the final race.

Moments after Team NZ retained the cup, Spithill was on the race communication system, thanking regatta organisers and paying tribute to the victors.

"Pete [Burling], if you can hear me, congrats mate, to you and the whole team," he said.

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The Aussie some Kiwis love to hate didn’t let his disappointment prevent him congratulating Team NZ on their America’s Cup win. Source: 1 NEWS

Tuke reciprocated the kind words this morning on Breakfast, saying the Italian team "put up a heck of a fight" during the competition.

"They came out firing," he said. "We always knew they would, but [they] built nicely through the challenger series. They improved a lot from where they were in December.

"They really took it to us and, yeah, we've had some awesome fights — especially with Jimmy now over the years. He's a heck of a competitor and we've loved every bit of it and good friends with him."

Looking ahead, Tuke said he and Peter Burling were focused on the New Zealand SailGP Team and the Olympics in July.

"Those are the two things we do know and we'll just see exactly how the travel schedule works for those with Covid and whatnot, just seeing where we can go and how those preparations can look," he said, adding that he'll have a little bit of time to head home up north beforehand.

For the time being, though, Tuke said he's still riding the buzz from the past week's racing.

"The feeling being out on the water knowing that you've got the whole of New Zealand behind you, all the boats out there," he described. "When we were towing the boat back in it was pretty surreal."

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The two helmsmen were finally able to share secrets and stories from their battles on the water. Source: Seven Sharp