America's Cup: Fair dinkum Aussie battler stays staunch

By Dana Johannsen

Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill. Photo / Oracle
Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill. Photo / Oracle

He's remained plucky and defiant throughout the America's Cup match. Your typical brash Aussie battler, Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill has refused to accept defeat as an option.

Now even at 1-8 down to Team New Zealand in the to nine-win series and facing a seemingly insurmountable hurdle, the fighting talk from Spithill continues.

From here on in, every race in the America's Cup could be their last, but Spithill is maintaining his never-say-die approach. "It can be done," he said of his team's chances of a comeback.

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"We've got one hell of a battle on our hands here, but stranger things have happened in sport.

"I've witnessed some pretty big comebacks and it's never over till it's over.

"I've said it all along that this team will fight all the way and we'll never give up.

Like I said, stranger things have happened and there's a lot of history of sports coming back from huge deficits."

While his statements are delivered with his usual conviction, Spithill's body language tells another story.

His rigid posture is slightly slumped, he does not puff his chest out the same way and there is the odd wry smile that gives the game away. Team New Zealand have, if you excuse the pun, taken the wind out of his sails.

With huge resources at their disposal, few would have predicted Oracle's Cup defence would have been such a shambles. They've been playing catch-up right from the outset, as Emirates Team NZ set the pace early with their foiling programme. A catastrophic capsize in October last year, which rendered their first boat a virtual write-off, proved a massive blow for the team, leaving them shore-bound for nearly four months and setting them back even further.

Yet the manner in which they were left scrambling during the America's Cup finals has surprised many. They were forced to make drastic alterations to their boat, which made a huge impact on their upwind performance in heavier air, but came with big risks attached.

They also made changes to their crew, ousting tactician John Kostecki from the afterguard and calling in British Olympic hero Ben Ainslie in his place.

They were all desperate acts of a desperate team, and while their alterations to the boat paid off in a couple of races, Team NZ continued their steady, deliberate assault.

Ainslie gave a more honest, but still optimistic outlook of where his team were at.

"We're obviously in a very difficult position, but we're a strong team, we can win races - we've got to win a lot more races to get back to the Kiwis, but it's a possibility," he said.

"When we go back we'll keep working on what improvements we can make and go out tomorrow and get the guys fired up and race as hard as we can for as long as we're still in it."

5 great sporting comebacks

1 Liverpool FC, 2005

Down 0-3 to AC Milan in the Champions League final in Istanbul, Liverpool weren't just being beaten, they were being embarrassed in front of thousands at the ground and millions in front of telly. Defender Jamie Carragher would admit that he just wanted the game over as soon as possible and with the least amount of further damage. Instead, in six crazy second-half minutes, Liverpool put three goals past one of the best defences assembled in soccer. They would then go on to win the penalty shootout.

2 Canterbury Bulldogs, 1998

This classic West Sydney derby in the NRL preliminary final had a nice slice of Kiwi. The chances of Canterbury progressing to the grand final were somewhere between remote and hopeless when Parramatta led 18-2 with 10 minutes left. But the Bulldogs charged back with three back-to-back tries, the last to Kiwis centre Willie Talau requiring a sideline conversion from Daryl Halligan to take them to extra time. Chook nailed it and the Bulldogs made no contest of extra time (in the days before golden point), winning 32-20.

3 England, 1981

This series would be crowned Botham's Ashes, and the events at Headingley were a big reason why. Australia batted first and declared nine down for 401, Ian Botham (left) taking 6-95. The home side were then rolled for 174, Botham scoring 50. After, bookmakers had England at 500/1, tasty odds that Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee availed themselves of (can you imagine that happening in this cynical day and age). Botham swatted an almighty 149 not out as England rattled on 356. Charged up by his teammate's stunning feat, Bob Willis then mopped up Australia for 111, sealing a famous, utterly improbable 18-run lead.

4 Henri Cochet, 1927

Down two sets and 1-5 to Big Bill Tilden, Cochet (right) was about to make a rapid exit from Wimbledon at the semifinal stage. Instead, Cochet, after deciding to take the ball earlier and earlier, clawed his way back and won 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. F.R. Burrow, a Wimbledon referee, said the crowd was "almost too spellbound to applaud". Cochet would save six match points in his final victory over compatriot Jean Borotra.

5 Lazarus, more than 2000 years ago

A knockabout loose forward for Bethany, near Jerusalem, Lazarus left this world for four days according to some reports, before being coaxed out of retirement to take his place on the side of the scrum again.

- NZ Herald

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