Viewpoint: Lessons Not Learned in the America’s Cup

It appears the powers-that-be are once again doing their best to sap whatever life remains out of the America’s Cup in their never-ending quest to make a dime off the oldest trophy in sports.
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It appears the powers-that-be are once again doing their best to sap whatever life remains out of the America’s Cup in their never-ending quest to make a dime off the oldest trophy in sports.

Many commentators have decried the fact that so little has happened (and that what little has happened has been pretty unimpressive) following last year’s incredible America’s Cup final. But to my mind it’s kind of nice to have a break. Back in the day, one of the fun things about every new cycle was its seeming unpredictability, kind of like the 17-year locust. Hey, look there’s another challenger for the Cup, neat!

No, what worries me is the way the major players are once again falling into the blandly upbeat cyborg-speak that is the hallmark of a corporatized event in which no one wants to piss off the boss. For all the talk of technology and athleticism, the thing that makes sports interesting is the people taking part—flesh and blood people complete with the emotions, quirks and foibles that make life so interesting—not gifted automatons.

Remember how exciting it was watching those full-foiling 72-foot cats racing around San Francisco Bay during the Louis Vuitton Cup? Exactly. As soon as the novelty of foiling wore off, it was about as exciting as watching paint dry, with the losers remaining professionally upbeat, even in the face of the most humiliating deltas.

The reason the Cup didn’t die an ignoble death then and there was the “Comeback,” and what made the comeback possible was people—the sailors, engineers, designers and, most of all, Jimmy Spithill, who simply refused to give up. When his team was down 1-8 and the rest of us just wanted the thing over and done with, he had the guts to tell the world and a smirking press corps—with Dean Barker looking on, no less—that he still had a chance. And he meant it. Who cares if the guy is as American as a Vegemite sandwich? That kind of gumption transcends national borders. The rest, as they say, is history.

Alas, here we are now with all too many of the people taking part showing about as much public enthusiasm for the event as they would a colonoscopy. When the official challengers for the 35th America’s Cup (there are five, by the way—Luna Rossa, Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand and newcomers Team France and British-flagged Ben Ainslie Racing) were introduced at a press conference in September, for example, the event’s new “commercial commissioner” Dr. Harvey Schiller made a point saying, “The first thing I’m not focusing on is the sailing, that’s up to other people.”

Really, Harvey? I get it, your job is to bring in the masses the way you did as president of Turner Sports. But that ain’t exactly the way to get sailors interested in your party. And if you can’t get sailors behind you, it’s going to be rough sledding, to say the least. 

Then there was this doozy from Dean Barker in response to a question about his role at the losing end of the Comeback: “I think, when you look back, you know, I’ve only got fantastic memories of what the team achieved over the period of time. We didn’t win, but I think with the lessons we’ve learned from the previous challenge, we’re in a much stronger position to take that next step.”

Are you kidding me, Dean? Last time the world was watching you were in tears on your boat and then sitting at the front of a packed media room looking like if you never went sailing again it would be too soon. Now you want us to believe you have nothing but “fantastic memories?” Never mind the fact that it takes more than a little fire in the belly to win an America’s Cup campaign, if guys like you don’t care whether you win or lose, why should anybody else? 

AC45 to Fly as Well

It only took the better part of a year, but organizers of the 35th America’s Cup have decided to make official what should have been an obvious slam-dunk from the outset: namely that the AC45 catamarans used in the World Series leading up to the Cup itself will officially be upgraded for full-foiling.

Oracle and the five official challengers have also all agreed to continue racing aboard the full-foiling AC45s after the 35th Cup regatta in 2017, in the 2018 America’s Cup World Series. Continuity? Consensus? Good stuff. Let’s keep it up, guys. You may be on to something!

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