Can Team USA work another America’s Cup miracle?

Can lightning strike twice for Jimmy Spithill and Oracle Team USA?

Four years ago, Spithill spearheaded one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history as Team USA recovered from 8-1 down against Team New Zealand to win 9-8 and clinch sailing and international sport’s oldest trophy — the America’s Cup.

Once again, the man nicknamed the “Pitbull” finds himself in need of a miracle.

Facing a 6-1 deficit to the same opponents in the 2017 America’s Cup, he knows one defeat when racing resumes in the waters off Bermuda on Monday will end his hopes of the much talked about “three-peat.”

To date, the Pitbull has been tamed by a puppy.

Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Pete Burling, 26, is 11 years Spithill’s junior and looking the far more at ease on the Great Sound.

Spithill knows he is on a precipice. To quote one of his many one liners, “One day you are a rooster and the next day you’re a feather duster.”

But he has faced adversity on the water before. He was a teenager on board Ragamuffin in the notorious 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which six people were killed.

And he will forever be remembered for his pivotal role in Team USA’s incredible recovery in 2013.

But as the 37-year-old puts it himself: “History means nothing,” while also downplaying the magic of the last comeback.

“Despite what many New Zealanders think, there was no silver bullet,” he said of four years ago. “I wish there was so we could use it this time. The answer was it was a lot of little things.”

Spithill has rightly been praised for his sailing prowess. In 2010, he became the youngest winning helmsman in the cup’s history — a record Burling looks on course to eclipse.

And the occasionally brash Aussie has earned a reputation for his aggressive approach, although this match itself has been littered with errors from him.

On Sunday, he mistimed his start allowing the Kiwis to get the jump and in the subsequent race he lost valuable speed after getting boxed in by Burling.

Where there had been hope with a first victory to make it 4-1 on the Saturday, US Cup hopes quickly evaporated.

In San Francisco, perhaps crucially, there had been a five-day break to regroup before the comeback began in earnest.

Boxing mentality

What is clear is that Spithill is backed into a corner, and the boxer in him — the consensus is he could have represented Australia at Olympic level had he so desired — will have to come out fighting.

“As a young kid I used to get picked on a lot because of the red hair and freckles,” he said in one pre-Cup interview. “You either let it happen or you can do something about it.”

So, he laced up his gloves, which he also credits with stopping him from going down the wrong path with the wrong crowd shortly after his parents separated.

By then, though, sailing had the edge on boxing. When he relocated from Sydney, his only way of getting to school was by boat.

The Pitbull tag stuck in the 2007 America’s Cup when skippering the Prada team. He knew he lacked the necessary pace but his aggression — much to the delight of the Italian fans — saw the team punching above their weight.

For the next edition, he took flying lessons to help him better understand the aerodynamics of the boats he was sailing.

But it is the Kiwis that have been flying to date, and the uphill task is arguably even tougher than back in 2013.

Design criticism

“We’ve been here before, we will fight all the way,” Spithill said staring down the barrel of defeat. “It’s a tall mountain to climb.”

Whatever the result, now is not the time for recriminations, and Spithill will not be the only one to whom the finger of blame will be pointed.

Former America’s Cup skipper Paul Cayard believes Oracle’s design team have done too little too late, altering the rudders to help hoist the boat higher when foiling.

“They are now minimum size, and they were maximum size,” said a bemused Cayard.

“They’ve got 30 engineers from Airbus given to the team for three years and they didn’t get the drag associated with the foils right.”

It is a far cry from their dominance of the qualifying stages, since when Burling and Team New Zealand have grown in stature and confidence.

Their CEO Grant Dalton, though, will be mindful of San Francisco ’13. Surely lightning can’t strike twice …