Dana Johannsen on sport

Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Unfamiliar niceness stirs yearning for that enmity of old

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Team NZ, left, and Oracle Team USA practice on San Francisco Bay Photo / AP
Team NZ, left, and Oracle Team USA practice on San Francisco Bay Photo / AP

There was something very strange about the opening press conference for the next round of the America's Cup World Series in San Francisco.

As the 11 skippers gathered for the press call, they greeted each other warmly, shook hands and asked after one another's kids. What's more, smiles didn't appear forced and there was no muttering under their breath as they walked away. There were no calls for "losers" to get off the stage.

It was all just so ... amicable.

Where have all the America's Cup bad guys gone?

Events such as this used to be niggly affairs, with sailors taking the chance to incorporate subtle digs at other teams under the innocent guise of answering reporters' questions.

It seems it is a new era for the America's Cup in more ways than just the high-tech boats they sailing on.

The controversial figures of past years have disappeared; what remains is a mutual admiration society.

Gone are divisive figures such as Dennis Conner, Ernesto Bertarelli and Brad Butterworth, who were cast as the villains of the sport.

We even seem to have forgiven Russell Coutts for jumping ship in 2000 (he was led astray by Evil Ernesto, you see).

After the two-year acrimonious legal battle between Alinghi and Oracle that marked the lowest point in the Cup's 160-year history, perhaps it was time for the event to take on a more friendly tone.

There are still the odd scraps between teams and Cup organising bodies bubbling away behind the scenes. But no real scoundrels have raised their heads ... yet.

In a way, it's a bit of a shame.

The hostilities between teams were part of what made the America's Cup all the more intriguing for fans. After all, everyone loves a grudge match.

Most of the general public wouldn't know the difference between a spinnaker and a gennaker. But they do understand the concept of good versus bad.

Larry Ellison has spent millions of his personal fortune coming up with an exciting spectacle that will capture a new generation of fans.

Sailors have ditched the polo t-shirts and donned helmets and wetsuits as they race high-powered catamarans around tight in-shore race courses, designed to offer spectators on the sea-wall a glimpse of the action.

For television audiences back home there are fancy graphics and virtual trackers, as well as on-board cameras and microphones to capture all the extreme action.

Yet there is little to suggest the moves have increased the appeal of the America's Cup.

Perhaps what the event needs most is some roguish characters to come in and stir things up with some good old espionage and skulduggery.

- NZ Herald

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