Yachting: Friend says Coutts will not change

BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts raises the trophy after winning the 33rd America's Cup...
BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts raises the trophy after winning the 33rd America's Cup against Alinghi in Valencia, Spain. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
Sir Russell Coutts might have confirmed his status as the king of the America's Cup but one of his oldest friends expects the great yachtsman to remain as humble as ever.

Coutts scored sweet revenge yesterday by winning his fourth America's Cup against former employer Alinghi, which prevented him from competing in 2007.

The former Dunedin sailor had already won the Auld Mug in 1995, 2000 and 2003, matching the record set by US skipper Dennis Conner, who won in 1974, 1980, 1987 and 1988.

But there is a small difference: this time around, Coutts acted as the winning team's CEO and Oracle's giant trimaran was steered instead by Australian James Spithill, who is already touted as the man who can claim Coutts' mantle.

The New Zealander is undefeated in the America's Cup.

With Black Magic in 1995, Team New Zealand in 2000 and Alinghi in 2003, he won the cup each time 5-0.

Yachting commentator Peter Lester said the 33rd America's Cup would be remembered as a battle of technology, and, as CEO of BMW Oracle, Coutts deserved much of the credit for the historic win.

"Coutts' contribution to this programme has been huge. He oversaw and masterminded the entire project and made sure he brought together the best possible team to pull it off," he said.

Lester believes Coutts has positioned himself as the most influential figure in the 159-year history of the America's Cup.

Allen Garbutt, who teaches at Otago Boys High School - Coutts is an old boy - and is a long-time friend of the Oracle head, said Coutts had enhanced his legacy with his latest achievement.

"Obviously, this is quite phenomenal.It speaks volumes for the man's intellect," Garbutt said yesterday.

"But the thing with Russell is he is a very modest person. He lets his achievements speak for themselves. He doesn't have a swollen head and, in fact, he's very happy to be out of the public light."

Garbutt sees Coutts around Christmas most years and has got to know his second wife, Jenny, and their three young children.

Coutts also has a 21-year-old son, Grayson, from his first marriage, who is on television screens in a cooking reality show.

Coutts, a qualified engineer, was just as influential behind the scenes at Oracle as he would have been at the helm, Garbutt said.

"His real interest now is in design. He's found the project management side of it and the engineering to be fascinating.

"He would have been involved in every major design decision. What makes Russell quite unique is he can understand everything about mathematics and engineering and materials. He also understands the implications for the actual sailing of the vessel. Very few people would have that breadth of knowledge."

After Alinghi won the America's Cup in Auckland in 2003, Coutts wanted to see his responsibilities at the Swiss team increase.

But his ambitions were thwarted by owner Ernesto Bertarelli and fellow New Zealand skipper Brad Butterworth, and Coutts left Alinghi in 2004.

Alinghi, which as the defending champion could set the rules for the next edition of the event, made convoluted changes to the rules for the 32nd edition of the trophy in Valencia, which prevented him from taking part.

Coutts joined Oracle shortly after Alinghi defended its trophy at the last America's Cup and was given full responsibility by the team's owner, US software tycoon Larry Ellison.

After a protracted court battle, Oracle won the right to be Alinghi's challenger in the 33rd America's Cup, giving Coutts the chance to face his former employer.

After winning the cup four times, Coutts now faces an entirely new challenge of defending the prestigious trophy for the American side.



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