America's Cup: Spithill's optimism looks less fanciful

By Dana Johannsen

Results justify Oracle skipper's upbeat stance but Barker's staying confident.

Clearly outgunned by Team NZ early on, Oracle had no choice but to be aggressive with their changes. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Clearly outgunned by Team NZ early on, Oracle had no choice but to be aggressive with their changes. Photo / Brett Phibbs

For the past week, with Oracle Team USA "staring down the barrel of the gun", skipper Jimmy Spithill has turned up to the post-race press conferences and spoken passionately of his team's ability to pull off the impossible in this America's Cup match.

What once seemed like fanciful claims are now looking a very real possibility after Oracle clinched both races yesterday - their fourth on the trot - to close the scoreline up to 8-5 (8-7 on the water) as Team New Zealand today enter their fifth day anchored on match point.

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That precious last point is proving so agonisingly difficult for Team NZ to collect. While that ugly word in New Zealand sport - "choke" - is beginning to enter the conversation, the fact is at the moment the Oracle boat is faster, the crew have learned to sail the thing, and the decision-making on board from Spithill and his sidekicks Ben Ainslie (tactician) and Tom Slingsby (strategist) has been near-faultless.

Clearly outgunned by Team NZ early on, Oracle had no choice but to be aggressive with their changes, taking some big gambles with the way they have configured the boat - all of which are paying off. Spithill says the team are continuing to make changes after every race day, refining the package to stay ahead of the development curve.

"The changes to the boat are a big deal. They're a big deal in terms of actual performance that you see physically but also mentally for the crew, because now the crew can see that the boat is up to it and they believe they can do it and the boat can do it," said Spithill.

"The wave of momentum has truly swung our way, I feel, and we're going to keep riding it."

While the pressure is mounting on his team at a rate of knots similar to Oracle's downwind speed, Dean Barker yesterday appeared the most relaxed he has been at the daily press conferences, which over the past few days also seem to have doubled as a Ben Ainslie love-fest for the British media (Sir Ben, can you tell us again about all the gold medals you've won?). Even when the "choking" word was raised, the Team NZ skipper laughed it off.

Barker said he has huge belief his team will get the job done.

"The guys know we're definitely good enough to go out there and win this thing. We obviously had a tough few days, some ups and downs, some things have gone against us," he said.

"But that's sport and we know we can bounce back and we're very excited about getting out there again tomorrow."

As Oracle begin to threaten them on the scoreboard, the abandonment of race 13 on Saturday while Team NZ were 1.5km ahead must now feel particularly grating for the Kiwi team. But Barker insists they have moved on from that.

"You can easily get caught up and frustrated and everything else, but it doesn't help you sail any better," he said.

Team NZ will have port entry for both of today's scheduled races, with the weather forecast once again for light winds of 10-14 knots.

- NZ Herald

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