The skippers’ words on the eve of the America’s Cup decider along with the possible outcomes for the showdown
The penultimate race of the America’s Cup set the scene for a spectacular face off between two of the closest teams in the history of the Cup. But with the trophy hanging on a single all-or-nothing race, this best of 19 series has been more than just a needle match. The build up to the final match has been a display of dominance on both sides, the Kiwis taking the first eight races before the American team took seven in a row to take their total number of wins to 10. You simply could not script this better, whoever gets to take the trophy.
Yet someone has to win and someone has to lose and although the racing has been nail bitingly close, it’s difficult not to focus on the penultimate match as a guide as to what might be in store for an America’s Cup match that will be talked about for months, years, even decades – after all, 1983 was, is and will continue to be. Many are making parallels between then and now.
Boat speed might make you look like a tactical genius, but when you think you’re slow you tend to make mistakes. Watching Emirates Team New Zealand trip up on a course that they had been so dominant on last week and after a punchy confident start was painful to watch. For more than a week they had been quick and tactically brilliant. But the press conference that followed provided worrying indications that their confidence had deserted them and that their speed was now lacking. The words and body language of the final press conference, the last time that we would see these two sitting shoulder to shoulder, gave the biggest hint yet of the hole that the Kiwis now find themselves in.
When talking of the starts, Team New Zealand’s weakest hand throughout this event, skipper Dean Barker said, “I made a really bad job of the start, it took us out of the race at the start.”
He wasn’t very happy about the second start either.
“We did everything we wanted to do and got beaten. We got beaten today and that’s hard to handle, but sometimes you have to accept it.”
When asked about the upwind leg of Race 18 and the controversial tack that saw Oracle overtake, he said, “This was the first time that we recognised that we’re not as strong as we should be.”
And of their competitors?
“Credit where credit is due, they’ve done incredibly well to get back into this race. They’ve done an amazing job.”
Yet Barker says he hasn’t given up.
“There’s an absolute belief in this team that we can win,” he said.
How would he do it?
“By trying to be first across the finish line!” he quipped in a brave attempt to deflect the real answer to the question. There was no table thumping, no pointing, no change of approach, this was Dean Barker, the coolest, outwardly calmest skipper on the circuit.
Was he playing a double bluff? Was he luring his tough talking opponent into a trap by encouraging him to become complacent, cocky even? If he was it was a subtle move, but given how little emotion Barker shows and how good a poker player he’d make, few could decide what was really going on with the skipper or the team.
Contrast that with the upbeat, defiant tough talk from Jimmy Spithill and you have the clearest examples of how different these two teams have been throughout the Cup.
Spithill has stuck to his hard line approach. His crew are ‘hungry’, he tells us. He’s’ ‘never seen them like this’, he says. The whole team has come this far and ‘really wants it now.’ And it doesn’t stop there, the ‘support that’s flooding into the base is having an amazing effect.’
“The city has come down to support us which is superb. We’ve got the whole nation as well, that’s incredible and we’re riding this wave.”
But despite the team’s dominant performance on the water and hard talk ashore, he exercises caution.
“We’ve got it in us, we’ve come back from a very deep hole, but it’s not over yet, we’ve got to finish it off.”
And finish it off they will. Talking this evening to the event producer, responsible for just about everything to do with the show that happens ashore, he’s organised eight prize givings for this event and called all of them off so far. But Wednesday he knows will be for real.
And therin lies the real buzz around San Francisco this evening. Tomorrow, Wednesday really is the end of the America’s Cup, the final defining race. A fitting climax to an extraordinary event.
So what can we expect, what are the options that are being talked about down here?
1) Oracle continues its punchy performance and wins the America’s Cup on the water.
There’s plenty of evidence for this.
They have already won more races than the Kiwis, ten to eight.
They have won seven races in a row across a range of conditions from fluky to frightening.
They are on a major roll, psychologically as driven by team tough captain Jimmy Spithill.
2) Oracle pushes too hard and breaks something, Kiwis win by finishing.
Spithill is certainly not afraid to push the boat hard, frighteningly hard as we saw in Race 18, the most recent race when he planted USA 17 several times in the drag race off the start line and around the first mark. Pushing too hard could trip them up. The line between success and spectacular failure is a fine one at 40+ knots and the early forecast suggests that we’ll be looking at a breeze towards the top of the scale.
3) The Kiwis, find the form that got them ahead in the opening week of the race but has eluded them for a week.
Skipper Dean Barker is convinced that the team can win this Cup. The boat is robust, forgiving and the crew has demonstrated great faith in their platform. They’ve submarined it, tipped it on its side and raced more days than anyone.
And while Oracle has a few gears that the Kiwis can’t find, the red winged boat is not slow.
They have to believe that the boat is quick enough and that they are good enough to win. Eight wins is all the evidence they need.
Getting ahead and staying ahead will be the key.
4) Oracle loses but takes the Cup to court.
Had the home team not been penalised they would have won the Cup by now. Would they really take the battle back to the courts?
Some think they would, others prefer to believe that the PR damage would undo the massive recovery of prestige that the Cup has been through in the last three weeks.
And just before you ask, the Kiwis cannot play their card. This could only be done for the second race and on Wednesday there is just one.
One to decide the 34th America’s Cup.
You have to watch this match. Beg, borrow or steal a laptop, hang off your neighbour’s WiFi or gate crash those who have the racing on television, but watch it you must.
Racing starts at 1315
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