America's Cup: We're firm underdogs, says Spithill

By Dana Johannsen

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill insists his team will now enter the America's Cup match against Team New Zealand as firm underdogs following the slew of penalties handed down by the international jury yesterday.

In an effort to put a positive spin on an ugly affair, shortly after the jury released their decision on what penalties would be imposed over the AC45 cheating scandal, the defenders called a press conference to unveil their 'A' team for the upcoming Cup match.

With four members of the sailing team implicated in the investigation, Oracle Team USA were unable to name their crew for the Cup match until after the ruling was handed down by the jury. In the end just two of the sailing team were penalised, with wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder banned from taking any part in the Cup, while Kiwi sailor Matt Mitchell was banned for four races. OTUSA were also pre-emptively docked two points for the Cup match and fined $US250,000.

Spithill said the late scratching of de Ridder, who fills a pivotal role on the boat, puts his team at a massive disadvantage.

"There's no question we're the underdogs, to find out just four days out from the first race of the America's Cup who your race team is - I don't think anyone would plan it that way," he said.

"Team New Zealand have been racing together a long, long time - we've got four days to get sorted."

After introducing his crew, who looked shell-shocked and uncomfortable, the bizarrely stage managed press call quickly descended into a farce, with the team scurrying off stage as soon as the tricky questions were raised, leaving Spithill to fend for himself. OTUSA chief executive Russell Coutts was curiously nowhere to be seen at yesterday's media call.

"I wish I'd kept a couple of the bigger guys around," Spithill joked as his crew deserted him, providing a moment of light relief in what was otherwise a tense affair.

Spithill refused to answer any questions on the jury ruling, stating he didn't agree with the penalties imposed, but "it is what it is". He later offered a bit of variety with "we are where we are".

"I'm not going to get into any of the jury stuff, that is done and dusted. I'm here to focus on the sailing. I know there's been a lot of stuff happen on the shore, but this is actually a sailboat race, and come [Sunday] that is exactly what we're going to do."

Kyle Langford, the youngest member of the Oracle team, will fill the role of wing trimmer in the absence of de Ridder. The young Australian was one of the crew implicated in the cheating investigation, and was found to have breached the rules but escaped penalty due to his inexperience, honest testimony and the fact he had no involvement in the work done.

It had been an anxious 24 hours for Langford. Yesterday morning he was uncertain whether he would even be permitted to take part in the event. By midday he was thrust into a key role in the boat in his first America's Cup. The 24-year-old admitted he is extremely nervous about the prospect.

"I don't think there's any on the team that's not nervous. Obviously I only found out today that I'd be sailing on the boat so I haven't had a lot of time to process or think about it too much, but certainly I'll be nervous come [Sunday]."

- NZ Herald

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