Like wind, Cayard's will is a sailing force

Doubt is foreign concept to skipper of U.S. boat

January 25, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Paul Cayard is doing a pretty good imitation of a tightly coiled spring, a guy ready at any moment to jump out of his skin.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, Cayard's $32 million AmericaOne campaign goes head-to-head against Italy's $80 million Prada Challenge in the opening match of the best-of-nine America's Cup challenger finals.

At stake is the right to challenge the defender, Team New Zealand, in the America's Cup regatta in mid-February.

The volcanic pressure has been building day by day here. And the way in which Cayard copes with that pressure will either thrust him into sporting history books or bring his whole campaign down.

"I hold onto it pretty tight," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm not extra good at unwinding. I'm a very compulsive person, so I'm always thinking, thinking, thinking about the whole thing. It's a race all the time.

"Often, I go to bed exhausted, but then wake up at 2 in the morning and lie awake thinking for an hour. Then I get up at 6 and go for a six-mile run on my own. That's the way I de-stress. I come back pretty fresh."

Cayard does that every day. Even on race days, when the crew is simply required to stretch, he's out there pounding around the park in front of the Auckland home he and his family have rented for the summer here.

As he runs, he sees the regulars, two old guys and a couple of women who jog the other way. They wave and tell him, "Slow down. Take it easy. Don't do too much."

But Cayard doesn't know how to slow down, much less stop.

"I'm one of those guys who is always pushing myself and never giving up," he said. "I'm 40 years old, and I've been racing for 30 years. What can I say? Professional footballers and guys like Michael Jordan go to sports psychologists who help them understand why they excel. I've never done that.

"I guess the truth is that my ego is such that I can't tolerate losing. That's the thing that upsets me the most. That's the fear that drives me. Without overanalyzing it, I think that's the thing that pushes me and gives me the little extra I need to win."

Cayard's victory in the grueling 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race was critically important in galvanizing corporate interest in his America's Cup campaign.

"The Whitbread is one of those marathon events that provides the ultimate test of endurance, stamina, determination, tenacity, all the human dimensions which are the necessary ingredients for winning," he said.

"Way down in the great Southern Ocean, it's freezing cold and blowing like hell, and I tell you, that's where you discover how hard you can push yourself. That was a great confidence booster.

"I was a determined kind of guy before the Whitbread, but when I came back it was like, `Hey, you can tackle anything.' Once I lock onto something, once I focus, I just never give up."

And Cayard does have the all-important aura of a winner. Two years ago, with the laurels of the Whitbread victory freshly draped around his shoulders, he commanded the attention of corporate America at a time when many other U.S. challengers could not.

A group of high technology companies backed him: Ford Visteon, Hewlett-Packard, Telcordia Technologies/SAIC and United Technologies. They provided not just money, but also the computing power and design innovation that makes AmericaOne one smart America's Cup challenger.

At the time Cayard was completing the Sydney-Auckland leg of the Whitbread, the Italian America's Cup crew was already hunkered down in Auckland, racing day after day on the Cup course. The prospect of catching, let alone overtaking, them seemed remote in the extreme -- to everyone but Cayard.

"The America's Cup is often spoken of in terms of a marathon," he said. "Well, it's like the Italian guys had a 10- or 12-mile head start before we even got going. At the start of the semifinals, they were like 100 meters ahead, but right now I see us running alongside them, and, guess what, there's two miles to go."

Cayard acknowledges that had he looked "coldly, dispassionately, at the odds" against him early on, he never would have become involved. But he says he knew he could catch up.

"On paper, the Italians looked unbeatable," he said. "They had a guy [Patrizio Bertelli] with a whole heap of money, and they had a huge head start.

"And yet the competitor in me said there's got to be some way that we're going to make it through. Something inside told me, `You can win this thing -- go for it.'

"Athletes don't look at the facts rationally a lot of the time. But sometimes it's not a bad idea to allow your heart to rule your head. I became convinced; I believed; I pushed; I decided to go as hard as I can all the time.

"The important thing was not to dwell on what we do not have," Cayard said, "but focus on what we do have and make the most of it. People who come from an underdog situation have to have that kind of conviction, otherwise they never succeed."

That's the kind of intensity that caught the attention of corporate America.

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