Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: How does it feel to be second, Russell?

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Russell Coutts. Photo / Gilles Martin-Ra
Russell Coutts. Photo / Gilles Martin-Ra

"Here's Dalts, a 56- year-old, and no one else can be found in New Zealand who is better than a 56-year-old?"

It's a now-infamous quote, the speaker, Sir Russell Coutts, making reference to Emirates Team NZ's chief executive Grant Dalton and his place in the crew on board Aotearoa.

"You know, I have won a few things (Coutts has famously never lost a Cup regatta), Dalts has got a lot of second places."

That all seems set to change now - wind, tides and the gods of the sea permitting.

Coutts' quote - to be fair to the Oracle Team USA chief executive - came at a charity dinner after Dalton had wound him up by playing a video of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison predicting a direction for the Cup almost entirely opposite to what eventuated: monohulls, low budgets and multiple challengers.

Dalton let the video lay out Ellison's grand vision and opened his speech with a now equally infamous quote: "Russell, what the hell went wrong, mate?"

That irked Coutts and stirred his renowned competitive streak.

"It's not about money," he said. "It's about smarts. It's not boxing, it's about out-thinking the opposition. Larry Ellison will get to hear about this. Do you think that will help motivate him at all?"

It now appears Oracle have been thoroughly out-thought, the score standing at 6 to 1. Team NZ, with a clearly faster boat, need to win three more races; Oracle need 10.

Dalton has also won the Fight of the 50-Year-Olds.

When Oracle made it clear they were considering crew changes, many thought Coutts should step back on the boat to take over from skipper Jimmy Spithill.

But Coutts does little sailing these days, by his own admission. In a Cup video, he says: "I'm 51, for God's sake". He has used the word "geriatric" in relation to himself.

Given that the skipper is pretty much the only one on the AC72s who does not have to partake in the back-breaking grinding work, Coutts' innate sailing genius could well be useful.

But the problem Oracle has is not the skipper, it's the boat. Coutts is extremely unlikely to tarnish a stellar America's Cup record by taking the wheel now in what seems likely to be a lost cause.

He has also made it clear that sailing is no longer his main occupation. His split with Alinghi has never been entirely explained but, according to one report, Alinghi's boss, the Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, said they parted ways because Coutts did not want to sail any more and Bertarelli felt that was what he had hired him for.

Dalton has certainly proved that the 50-year-olds haven't passed their use-by date but there has been little seen or heard of him at the sharp end of this regatta.

That's because he is doing the 50-year-old mature thing. He knows this is Dean Barker's time. He is giving him the room to enjoy it.

- Herald on Sunday

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