Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Cup will still be won by fastest boat

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Emirates Team New Zealand sails past Oracle Team USA. Photo / Getty Images
Emirates Team New Zealand sails past Oracle Team USA. Photo / Getty Images

The America's Cup international jury can rightly be regarded as heroes of the sport of sailing.

Theirs was a tough task, laden with politics and with uncharted steps through, potentially, a legal minefield. They had to protect their sport and punish as many cheats as possible - without prodding the sleeping giant of Larry Ellison in a soft place with a sharp stick. His billions and will for a legal scrap brought the Cup here to San Francisco in the first place.

Ellison is said to be unhappy with the cheating saga; Oracle Team USA general manager Grant Simmer told the jury that Oracle Inc was "really upset" and believed their name had been damaged.

The jury appears to have done a CSI/Cold Case investigation into this; even emails have been chased down.

But those who think this means Emirates Team New Zealand are home and hosed in the 34th America's Cup should pause.

Nothing has changed.

The Cup will still be won by the fastest boat. The margins, as much as we would all like to see cut-and-thrust racing, are likely to be decisive.

If Oracle have the fastest boat, the fact that they are starting at -2 to Team NZ's 0 will be irrelevant. As Team NZ boss Grant Dalton said yesterday, over a series of best of 17, the faster boat will eventually prevail.

So the jury has cleverly given Oracle a ringing slap in the face which brings tears to the eyes - but which doesn't preclude them from winning on the water. The US$250,000 ($320,000) fine is largely irrelevant too, given Oracle's resources.

The main area of hurt may be the expulsion of experienced wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder, a man the jury said gave instructions to others to effect the cheating.

De Ridder is one of the best wing trimmers in the world, well respected and one of the few capable of coaxing even more power out of the 40m wingsail to make the boat fly.

His replacement, 24-year-old Kyle Langford, is a talented rookie - but he is a rookie. He is regarded as the No2 trimmer and won the first of his two world championships (in the RC44s) with Spithill.

Langford, whose own part in the cheating saga was questionable, was also found to have breached the gross misconduct rule but was spared any punishment by the jury. His evidence seems to have played a part in the jury piecing things together.

The pressure will be intensely on Australia's 2006 youth sailor of the year. In the hard-to-sail AC72s, a single mistake can spell the difference between winning and losing.

In recent days, Oracle returned a boat to the sheds because its wingsail inverted. At that stage, they knew de Ridder was in trouble. It stands to reason they would have been giving a new trimmer a try-out.

They also knew Langford was being questioned but the point remains: a new trimmer was probably working the wing.

As the pressure mounts on the trailing boat as the series continues, so the effort to cut corners and gather more speed, maybe at the expense of stability, will increase. That is when mistakes could be made.

However, if the racing is close and Oracle lose by one point or two, we will all be watching to see if Ellison stirs, reaches for his chequebook and the speed-dial to slick New York lawyers Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

- NZ Herald

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