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US Sailing interview with BMW Oracle Racing Team's John Kostecki

by Jake Fish on 6 May 2010
John Kostecki, the only person to have won and Olympic medal, a Round the World Race and, now, two America’s Cups © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
US Sailing was fortunate to catch up with BMW Oracle Racing Team Tactician John Kostecki, while his team competes at the RC 44 Austria Cup.

The two-time winner of US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award (2002, 1988) has a diverse and unique racing resume that includes a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in the Soling class, a win at the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race as the skipper for Illbruck Challenge, and most recently Kostecki served as the tactician for the America's Cup winning BMW Oracle Racing Team. Read on to hear what John had to say about his sailing achievements.

You’ve won the America’s Cup, a Volvo Ocean Race, and a silver medal in the Olympics… What is your favorite sailing achievement and why?
Each of those achievements were very important to me at the time. They're all very hard to do and take a lot of time, energy and focus. I still enjoy all types of racing in our sport and I've been around for a while now, so that means you start to have achievements across the sport. It's satisfying now to have won the America’s Cup, won the Volvo Ocean Race and to have an Olympic medal. As far as we know, not too many people have done that. So certainly, that's a point of pride. But for me, sailing different classes and different types of events is fun and keeps it exciting.

What did it mean to you as one of the few Americans competing for the America’s Cup?
It's been a goal of mine for a while, so it's very satisfying to achieve that goal and bring the cup back to the U.S. I know Larry Ellison has been very keen to win it and bring the America’s Cup back to the U.S., so it is very satisfying.

How important was it for the U.S. to re-claim the America’s Cup? What does it mean for sailing in the U.S.?
Hopefully it will mean a lot. I know it is part of Larry's (Ellison) vision to elevate the profile of the sport and use this as a chance to educate people who don't know too much about our sport. If it's done the right way, I think it could really improve and energize the sport in the U.S. I think we have an opportunity to do some good things and make it more popular.

What did you enjoy most about your America’s Cup campaign? What did you enjoy the least?
I enjoyed sailing multihulls. I hadn't sailed them much before this and we really had to go all out and learn how to sail these kind of boats. So that was very satisfying. There was a lot of learning involved and I always enjoy that. The hardest part was the uncertainty and having to constantly make changes and adjustments because of the court issues. But we had to do it, we did it well as a team, and ultimately we were successful.

What was it about the 1983 America’s Cup that inspired you to want to compete in this race?
I can remember watching it on TV as a kid. All the other kids were out doing fun stuff outside and I remember being the only one staying in to watch it on TV. It was a really big moment, not just in sailing, and not even just in sport. I went beyond that. I can still remember thinking as I was watching that one day I want to do that.

So much occurred in the first few minutes of race one at the America’s Cup. What was the adrenaline like on board?
I think as a team we were mentally prepared to start and excited to get racing after all the build-up and hype. It was an exciting start. We made a few mistakes, but everything was relatively calm on board. Everyone was pretty focused on their job. We just really didn't have any idea whether we would be faster or they would be. You can only do so much in your testing and until you line up, you don't know. But a minute or two after we got going it was clear we were higher and faster in certain conditions.

Have you ever sailed in any of US Sailing’s National Championships? If so, which ones and when?
I haven't done anything recently, but in 1981 I won US Sailing’s U.S. Junior Championships (now referred to as US Sailing’s Chubb U.S. Junior Championships) for the Richmond Yacht Club. And in 1982 I won US Sailing’s Championship of Champions. That was the year I won the Sunfish worlds and the Championship of Champions happened to be in the Sunfish so I was quite fortunate.

How does your tactical knowledge for inshore racing translate to offshore, and vice versa?
In most cases, the two don't really transfer too much. The VOR (Volvo Ocean Race) of course is really long distance racing and inshore racing like the America's Cup is very different. But in terms of developing a boat, there are a lot of similarities. This last time, in developing the trimaran for BMW Oracle Racing was a similar process in many ways with what you do with a Volvo boat. There's a lot of testing and a lot of trial and error. And the things you test for offshore usually make big differences and that was the same with the trimaran.

Where do you get this passion for the sport that you share with our members?
I started sailing at age three in San Francisco with my parents then joined a junior program in the Bay area sailing on my own in a little Pram and basically graduated through bigger dinghies. And at the same time I would sail with my father on small keelboats. So from a young age, I really enjoyed it and was keen to go sailing every day I could.

In terms of racing, I certainly didn't start by winning, but I was always competitive and enjoyed it and liked the learning process.

Now, I still love sailing in good, exciting venues with fair sailing and good competition.


The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING), the national governing body for sailing, provides leadership for the sport in the United States. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, US SAILING is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including National Championships and the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. For more information, please visit www.ussailing.org.
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