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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: So Larry's ruthless - who knew?

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The orthodontist's receptionist had stepped out for a moment and missed the conclusion of the America's Cup race being piped into the waiting area. It was the 13th, or 14th, or 15th - one of the many Team New Zealand lost on the trot.

"Did we lose?" she asked, deducing the result from the tone of the commentary.

What do you mean we? I didn't say.

"Yes," I said, instead. "You'll need to make sure you've got the right expression on for the rest of the day."

She didn't argue.

For someone with but a passing interest in this, the past few weeks have been trying. Trying to get away from it, mainly, but there's been no chance of that.

Perhaps I should have moved to San Francisco - from the sound of things it's been perfectly possible to remain oblivious to the Cup in the place where it is happening.

I had been told that Team New Zealand would not win because Larry Ellison "does not lose".

My informant had it on good authority that he would do whatever it took.

As though that was something bad in a competition, or unusual when two very rich men fight over something both want. I took on board that the third richest person in America might have a bit of a ruthless streak.

When bad things happen we need an explanation that absolves us - or those representing us - of blame. So Ellison became demonised. The acronym ORACLE: One Rich A***hole Called Larry Ellison - oh, the wit! the sophistication! - did the rounds.

The media were to blame, of course. Plausible enough, given the longer the event ran the more newspapers would be sold and the more people would tune into radio and television. Asked to sum up recent Cup developments in three words on Twitter, one respondent came up with: Thrown for sponsors.

Many in the media themselves lost perspective. The headline "Oracle's speed foils Team New Zealand's game plan" summed up the utter unfairness of the opposition's devious tactics. Going fast to win a race - what next?

Then, inevitably, in the five stages of thinking we might have lost the America's Cup, sentimentality took over. There were so many New Zealanders on Oracle Team USA, we reminded ourselves, that really whichever boat actually took the prize, New Zealand would be the winner on the day.

And an open letter to Team New Zealand was circulated - a last-ditch rallying cry employing rhetoric so inflated, an orator as bombastic as Winston Churchill would have thought twice. Admittedly, the evacuation from Dunkirk was a boat race, but one with very different stakes.

Then it was all over and things went really nuts, much of the commentary saying in effect Oracle cheated because it used all the resources available to it, which were considerably more than Team NZ's.

Others, looking back, lamented that Russell Coutts had ever been given a knighthood, forgetting that those are awarded for what people have done, not for what they are going to do.

Worst of all though, was the speed and venom with which sore losers turned on a group of people they had been on the verge of lionising. Imagine the state the Warriors would be in if their fans were so fickle.

Fortunately, a few others acknowledged a fine effort by both sides and the thrilling spectacle they had provided, reminding us that amidst all the clichés, one vital one has been overlooked: it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game - especially from your armchair.

- Herald on Sunday

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