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VOR: Splitting hairs about the 'true' Triple Crown of sailing – winning titles should matter

SAN FRANCISCO – When Oracle Team USA won the America’s Cup in 2010, John Kostecki (USA) became one of the most accomplished sailors of all time by coming the closest to winning the so-called Triple Crown of sailing. The AC victory went alongside his victory in the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race as skipper of the illbruck Challenge (GER) and the silver medal he won as skipper of the USA's entry in the Soling class at the 1988 Olympics in Korea.

JK won the Volvo as skipper in 2001-02 with Germany's illbruck Challenge, also the AC with Oracle in 2010 and 2013 and an Olympic silver medal in 1988.

Now Blair Tuke (NZL) has the chance to win the “true” Triple Crown if MAPFRE can protect its lead through the rest of the current edition of the VOR. Tuke has already teamed up with Peter Burling (NZL) to get two-thirds of the way there by winning Olympic gold (Rio 2016, 49er) as well as the America’s Cup with Emirates Team New Zealand last summer. Burling has a chance, too, but his Team Brunel currently sits a distant fifth in the VOR (and he sat out Leg 4, which some people no doubt would hold against him if Team Brunel were to rally and win the round-the-world race).

So now comes the hair-splitting. When Sailing Illustrated wrote Monday about Burling rejoining the race, readers raised the issue that if Tuke or Burling win the VOR to complete the "true" Triple Crown, it will be as crew, not skipper.

Our view: so what?

Yes, Kostecki was skipper of his Soling crew when he took the silver medal at Seoul and was skipper in the VOR victory. However, he was Oracle Team USA's (then known as BMW Oracle Racing) tactician not skipper. That was Jimmy Spithill (AUS), who at the time made history as the Cup’s youngest winning skipper. Kostecki was the tactician aboard the giant trimaran that beat Alinghi off Valencia, Spain 2-0, and raced for Oracle in the 2013 Cup as tactician until replaced by Ben Ainslie.

Likewise, while Burling skippered the 49er that included Tuke as crew as the two took the silver medal at London and then the gold at Rio, he was not the skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand in last summer’s America’s Cup rout. That, technically, was Glenn Ashby (AUS), who trimmed the wing sail with an X-box like controller as the Kiwis embarrassed Oracle Team USA on Bermuda’s Great Sound. Burling was the helmsman – eclipsing Jimmy in the record department, too, by becoming the youngest helmsman to win the Auld Mug.

If MAPFRE wins the VOR, Tuke will have been crew in all three of his major victories. And guess what: he’ll be a champion in all three, before he turns 29, and in less than two full years. Never say never, but that might never be matched, at least no time soon.

To win any one of the three titles is a lifetime accomplishment. To win all three, whether you steer the boat or crew, would be beyond phenomenal.

For those who want to split more hairs, let’s look at some examples our American readers can grasp.

Can Jimmy Garoppolo stack his two Super Bowl rings won as Tom Brady’s backup against Eli Manning’s two Super Bowl rings won as a starter? Of course not. But he has them.

And how about Dave Roberts? He helped get the Boston Red Sox into the 2004 World Series with one of the most famous stolen bases of all time, yet he didn’t play a single inning in the Fall Classic. Still, he has a ring and is a champion, and will never have to pay for another drink in Boston the rest of his life.

If the Philadelphia Eagles upset the New England Patriots on Super Sunday, Carson Wentz will have earned a ring even though he’ll be standing on the sideline on crutches after tearing up his left knee on Dec. 10. Likewise, if Brady wins his sixth ring, backup quarterback Brian Hoyer will get one, too, even if he doesn’t take a snap.

Back to sailing. Kostecki's achievement noted above is amazing in and of itself. But a silver medal is in some ways like getting to the AC Match but not winning it. After all, Your Majesty, there is no second. And we wouldn't recognize, for the sake of the "Triple Crown," being on the podium as runner-up in the Volvo, would we? So let's call JK the winner of sailing's Trifecta, as suggested by our friend Betsy Altman Barrett (USA, Chicago). Reserve the Triple Crown for winners of all three events.

There's also the matter of the Vendée Globe vs. the Volvo, or in addition to it. The Quadruple Crown? But that's grist for another mill and a future article.

Otherwise, let’s not split hairs. Let’s give these guys their due, whether it’s as skipper or crew. They’re on the boat. And the rest of us aren’t.

Blair Tuke (left) has a chance to become the first to win the "true" Triple Crown of sailing. Peter Burling (right) has a longer-shot chance at it. Photo: Ricardo Pinto/ACEA 2017.

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