America’s Cup: Kiwis on the Cusp of Victory

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24/06/2017 - Bermuda (BDA) - 35th America's Cup 2017 - 35th America's Cup Match Presented by Louis Vuitton, Day 3

Photo credit Ricardo Pinto

For a brief shining moment on Saturday, Cup fans had a glimpse of a hard-fought close battle for the America’s Cup, when the Defender Oracle Team USA finally managed to pull out a win. But then came Sunday.

At the close of the first two days of America’s Cup racing the previous weekend, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill conceded that big changes needed to be made to his boat if he was to keep up with Emirates Team New Zealand and that the next five days would be the most important of the campaign.

Unfortunately, if the Kiwis’ two comfortable wins on Sunday are any indication, whatever Oracle came up with isn’t going to be enough. Not only that, but the team is fast running out of time. With ETNZ now up 6 – 1 in the first-to-seven series, there is a very good chance that the sun will set with the Auld Mug once again in Kiwi hands for the first time since 2000.

On the plus side, the Defender does seem to have found some more speed in the lighter air that has been the Kiwis’ bread and butter from the beginning. But at the same time, they have also now become their own worst enemies by allowing themselves to be simply out sailed, incurring any number of unforced errors. Could it be that Oracle has gone for a less stable “package” of foils, which provides additional straight-line speed, but at the price of less control?

As for the Kiwis, life couldn’t be better. Good starts, good boatspeed, smooth (for the most part) maneuvers in pretty much any tactical situation imaginable. Right now this is a squad that seemingly has it all.

“We were absolutely delighted with how the day went…. We were disappointed to give away a race yesterday but we certainly made up for it today,” said ETNZ helmsman Peter Burling after Sunday’s racing. “We’ve got a fantastic team, and you can see that out on the water. Despite the lead, we won’t get ahead of ourselves because we still know we have a job to do and it’s still an incredibly tough ask.”

[Day 3 Recap Video

Of course, Oracle and its fans have been in this situation before, back in 2013 when Spithill and company came back from a 1 – 8 deficit to win it all. But this is a much different America’s Cup, with ETNZ just seeming to get stronger and stronger, so that the gap between the two teams seems if anything to be getting wider and wider as the event progresses.

During the first race on Saturday, for example, Oracle wasn’t just over early at the start but incurred a penalty later on to nix any chance of a comeback. And while they did much better the second race of the day, any momentum they may have hoped to have established, was pretty much shattered by the Kiwis’ performance 24 hours later.

“A lot has been said about what happened four years ago, but I love the pressure,” Burling said, sounding like he really meant it. “If you want to come all the way to Bermuda and win the America’s Cup, then you have to deal with immense pressure. As a group, we feel the pressure is bringing the best out of us, and I think we’ve more than answered those questions.”

Day 4 Recap Video

As for Jimmy Spithill, while he is the last person to concede defeat in advance, there’s no denying even he appears to realize the situation is now a dire one, to say the least.

“They sailed better than us today and made a lot fewer mistakes,” Spithill conceded at the close of Sunday’s racing. “The plan certainly wasn’t to be in this position again, I can assure you of that, but we are here now so it is up to all of us to respond and react.”

“I still think we can win races with this boat. We’ve proven we can race against these guys if we sail well, but if we make too many mistakes like we did today then we won’t win races,” he added.

As for any changes that might be made in anticipation of match point later today, Spithill said: “Once again we will go away and review everything, and tomorrow we will put out the boat, the configuration and the team we feel will give us the best possible chance to win some races…. Anything is on the table. Every single team member in Oracle Team USA will do whatever they can to help the team win…. That includes me. If the team feel they have a better chance of winning with me on the wheel, I’ll be on the wheel, if we feel we have a better chance with me off the wheel, no problem. Our attitude has always been you put the team before yourself.”

Fair enough. Whether that can-do attitude will be sufficient to pull off another improbable come-from-behind victory will be put the test soon. Whether fans will be treated to exciting racing or little more than a victory lap remains to be seen.

June 2017

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