America's Cup: Team NZ's race for redemption

By Dylan Cleaver

As befitting its tortuous history, the 34th America's Cup regatta has had it all - and a whole lot of nothing.

Hosted by a city whose denizens gave rise to a counter-culture that celebrated the ideals of peace, love and harmony, the America's Cup has thrown together its usual toxic mix of fear and loathing, protest and mistrust.

Conceived by arguably the best America's Cup sailor in history, Russell Coutts, and the world's fifth-richest man (according to Forbes), Larry Ellison, this was the can't-miss contest that has missed ... spectacularly. Behind the intrigue and the plotting, the tragedy and the farce there lies and inescapable truth: since the regatta opened to Independence Day fireworks there has been just one race - one! - that has approximated a contest, and that was played out between the two stragglers, Artemis and Luna Rossa.

Yes, Team New Zealand look a picture when their hulls lift and they careen around San Francisco Bay at 40-plus knots. The concept of foiling alone is jaw-dropping, actually seeing it in action is tomomentarily suspend disbelief. But, and this is a big but, it has amounted to little more than an exhibition so far. Exhibitions can be enthralling, but are they sport?

The regatta and its prelude has for the most part been a protracted embarrassment. Perhaps that's why Ellison has been so conspicuous by his absence. He's put on this party, virtually nobody has turned up, so he's decided to shut himself in his bedroom - in his case a gloriously ostentatious superyacht - and deadbolt the door.

In a recent, highly publicised interview with American network CBS, Ellison, tagged as "The Outspoken Billionaire", finally confronted some of the issues. He described the death of Artemis sailor Andrew Simpson as a "freak accident", not attributable to a lack of safety precautions.

"We had divers in the water 30 seconds after that boat flipped over," he told CBS.

Ellison maintained they had made the right decision to go with AC72s, saying people just did not like change.

In this case it is not the change that is unappealing, but the absence of racing.

Yet ... yet, there is still hope.

For some, including sailor-turned-Louis Vuitton-figurehead Bruno Trouble, Team NZ represent hope for the future of the Cup. You can pare that down further: they represent hope for the future of this regatta.

Assuming they ease past the disappointing and dispirited Italians aboard Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, starting on Sunday morning (NZT), Dean Barker's boys will meet Oracle for the big prize in a best-of-17 Cup showdown.

While we quickly and often wrongly paint ourselves as a nation of underdogs, pluckily scrapping our way to a seat at the sporting top table with a combination of No 8-wire and old-fashioned values - in reality, this is a lavishly funded, ultra hi-tech operation - in this case we can be forgiven for stretching poetic licence.

Either by luck or grotesque Oracle mismanagement, we can claim the corner of good in its battle with evil.

Last week Oracle admitted it had modified its AC45 boats without permission of the Measurement Committee during four regattas in the America's Cup World Series, a warmup to this year's regatta.

The international jury is investigating and could punish Oracle with a fine, forfeiture of races or disqualification from the America's Cup. We can safely assume the most draconian of those sanctions will not be enforced, but it still smells.

Barker, the clothing heir and wholesome helmsman, was moved to call Oracle cheats, an accusation repeated by Grant Dalton in the San Francisco Chronicle. "You can't actually get to any other point than the fact they were cheating. It's really serious."

It is, Grant. That's why you have no choice but to win. Not only does your country need you, the sailing world does too. You and your sailors are charged not only with defeating evil, but turning awhole lot of nothing into something pretty special.

- NZ Herald

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