Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Tough talk as rivals ready for battle

The skippers say they just want to go racing, a crewman says they want to kill each other ... and they're both right

Dean Barker (L) and Jimmy Spithill. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget
Dean Barker (L) and Jimmy Spithill. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget

They couldn't be more different in personality, but America's Cup skippers Dean Barker and Jimmy Spithill have one thing in common according to Team New Zealand and former Oracle trimmer Glenn Ashby: "They both want to kill each other."

The two skippers put it more gently - "we just want to go racing" was the line repeated ad nauseam at yesterday's opening press conference; usually prefaced with "at the end of the day".

Trying to shake off the controversy that has shrouded his team for the past month since the cheating scandal broke, Spithill was in a defiant mood in the final media call before the teams went into isolation for tomorrow's opening races.

He said he was shocked by the slew of penalties imposed by the international jury, but insisted the setbacks had only galvanised his team - well the ones who weren't kicked out of the regatta.

"There's no two ways about it, it hasn't been the ideal preparation with what has transpired, but we're here to race, we're looking forward to do the talking out on the water," said Spithill.

Throughout the regatta the Cup defenders have been cast in the role of villains, but Spithill tried to paint a different picture for the hometown fans.

Maintaining his position that his team were firm underdogs after being docked two race points and losing experienced wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder for the Cup match, Spithill called on the people of San Francisco to get behind Oracle.

"We have our backs against the wall, we have been challenged and we are fighting for our lives right now," said Spithill.

"If there was ever a time we needed the people of the USA and San Francisco to get behind us, it's now. If we can get those people behind us at a tough moment like this, well, that's great. We want to keep this thing [the America's Cup] here."

While the energetic Spithill delivered his impassioned plea for the locals to get behind his team, his Team New Zealand counterpart sat still and stony-faced, staring off into the middle distance.

Usually, little of any value is said at the opening press conference, so the body language of the skippers is often analysed more closely than their words. Barker gave nothing away in either sense.

In light of the events of the past week, most of the questions were directed at Spithill anyway.

At one point Barker was asked if he felt for Spithill because of the pressure he was under, but the pre-Cup staredown was no time for being charitable.

"That's the circumstances they found themselves in through something the team's done," he replied. "The timing is what it is for those guys, but they're good enough and old enough to deal with it."

Team New Zealand piled more pressure on the Oracle team yesterday, forcing them back to the jury room just when they thought they could turn their full attention back to the water.

The Kiwi team sought clarification from the jury over the America's Cup measurement committee's interpretation of one of the class rules.

The team believe the measurement committee effectively altered the class rule when it issued a public interpretation notice last week in response to questions Oracle had asked of it.

The rule in question relates to the use of stored energy and non-manual power. It is believed Oracle's daggerboard rake system has some level of automation, and Team NZ have asked the jury whether it is within the original intent of the rules.

In an obvious show of gamesmanship, Team NZ filed the papers with the jury shortly before it released its decision on what penalties Oracle would incur for making illegal modifications to their boat.

The distraction is the last thing Oracle needed in an already fraught build-up to their defence.

After all, they just want to go racing.

- NZ Herald

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