Tomorrow might be crunch time but both sides are still happy to talk tactics and the future
With just one race required to take the 34th America’s Cup and having dominated the event so far, it’s relatively easy to answer questions from the press about how your team will secure ultimate victory. ‘Keep doing the things we’ve been doing and treat every race just like the ones before’, is the standard answer. Unsurprisingly the spirit of the replies coming from skipper Dean Barker and his tactician Ray Davies went down this line.
But when backs are against the wall, describing what you might do next to recover the Cup is not such an easy question to answer while being even harder to sound plausible, determined and upbeat while you do so. But despite his team facing the wrong end of the barrel, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill, supported by his tactician Ben Ainslie, provided upbeat, articulate answers to both the here & now and the future.
“We have top go out and win one race at a time,” said Spithill. “We’ve got to approach the race to win, regardless of the score line. We’ve got one hell of a battle on our hands here. But stranger things have happened in sport. I’ve witnessed some pretty amazing comebacks and it’s never over until it’s over. There’s a lot of history in sport of teams coming back from huge deficits.”
Even for the chief comeback king Ben Ainslie, turning the tables is going to be a huge task.
“You need to keep believing,” he said. “Obviously we are in a very difficult position. We are a strong team, we can win races although we have got to win a lot more races to win to catch the Kiwis, but there’s still a possibility. So when we go back we keep working on what improvements we can make. We go out tomorrow, get the guys fired up and race as hard as we can until we either win the Cup, or we don’t get the opportunity to do any more racing – It’s as simple as that.”
On the point of believing there was a lighthearted moment during the post race press conference when Ainslie admitted to hearing the radio call that the race had been abandoned in the second race but didn’t pass the information on to his crew mates, at least not until later.
“I heard on the radio, but we were right in the middle of the pre-start and I thought I’d wait until I’d heard it a few more times in case I was just believing stuff and lost the America’s Cup by the wrong radio call,” he said with a laugh.
But as the Cup gets ever closer to its conclusion, another focus of attention is what happens next and whether the crews have an appetite for more of the same in the future.
“To think that this event is so close between two teams that started with very different concepts is pretty hard to believe. But both teams have reacted really well in what they’ve seen in each other,” said Dean Barker. “Unbelievably, for the first generation of the class you have two boats that are so close in performance over such a wide range of conditions.”
Ainslie referred to the new game of high speed tactics that the new generation had brought out.
“When we were out there the other day we were hitting 32 knots upwind,” he said. “Considering lee bow tacks at 32 knots is not something any of us have had to consider before, but that’s just one of the things that’s making the racing exciting. It’s a real challenge for all of us.”
So what did he think of the future for this style of racing?
“We’ve all enjoyed racing these boats immensely and it’s been a huge challenge to learn to sail these boats at this level in the finals,” he continued. “It’ll come down to whether we want to continue the development of this type of class, or a high performance monohull and what we want to do to bring the costs down to have more teams competing next time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a smaller boat is going to be more cost effective, that comes down to the people, that’s one of the biggest issues with the budgets of these teams. I think all of those things have to be part of the overall consideration.”
Spithill added his views on what the racing has meant to him so far.
“I think the racing speaks for itself,” he said. “For any of the sailors on these boats it’s the ultimate challenge. The guys are physically pushed to the limits, the decisions have to be made in a split second, there are serious consequences now and if you make a mistake you get punished. As an athlete that’s all you can ask for.
“Then you’ve got to consider all those that are watching. Is it exciting, entertaining, does it go for the right length of time? Can people watch it for free? And what does it look like in TV
“This event has ticked all the boxes. It’s been great for competitors, great for the spectators and has introduced the sport to a bigger audience. Certainly in the States people had a pre conceived idea of what they thought the America’s Cup and its sailors were. I think now it’s completely different and has re-educated and re-engaged people into the sport.”
Wise words and a neat summary from the team that still has to figure out how to get out of the last chance saloon.