Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Skippers buoyant as 16th race brings extra pressure

Barker says his team are as motivated as ever as Spithill continues to ride wave of momentum.

Dean Barker says his team is upbeat despite the rough run. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dean Barker says his team is upbeat despite the rough run. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A week ago Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill was desperately trying to convince us that the America's Cup match was not over. By yesterday he had traded places with his opposite, and it was Dean Barker insisting Team New Zealand are not done for yet.

Riding a wave of momentum that has carried them to five straight wins - all of them by convincing margins - Oracle are on the verge of pulling off the unthinkable. What seemed an impossible comeback is looking more likely by the day as Spithill's team yesterday closed the margin to 8-6 with a 33-second win in race 16.

With Oracle docked two points before the start of the regatta, the score on the water is now 8-all.

As Oracle seem to find another gear every day, Team NZ are still searching for that inexplicably elusive win that will take them to glory. The inability of the Kiwi team to convert that final win has moved beyond the realms of frustration and into painful territory.

It is so tantalisingly close, and yet so agonisingly far away.

With murmurings of Team NZ now being sure-fire contenders for the greatest choke of all time if they go on to lose from here, the pressure building on the Kiwi team is immense.

And yet, as one agency reporter noted yesterday, watching Barker in the post-race press conferences has been a study in stoicism.

He said his team are still upbeat and positive about their chances.

"It has been a rough run over the last few days, but there hasn't been one person that has even got close to throwing in the towel. We're motivated to work even harder to make sure we do finish this thing off," he said. "The worst thing we can do is tighten up and not allow ourselves to do all the things we have done well all the way through the series."

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill says the two-point penalty is motivation more than frustration. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill says the two-point penalty is motivation more than frustration. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Yesterday's frustration for the team was getting only one race in. With the start of race 16 delayed 30 minutes while the committee waited for the breeze to fill in, it was only possible tofit one race in the tight two-hour window designed to suit the needs of the broadcast schedules rather than the sport. Barker said his team were keen to get the second race under way, with the breeze building in the afternoon to ideal conditions.

With Oracle drawing level on wins, today should have been the decider. Instead, Spithill and his crew need three more wins to successfully defend the America's Cup. The fact they have been able to claw their way back has raised the inevitable questions of what might have been had Oracle not been penalised two points, but Spithill said it's not something his team focus on.

"It's not frustrating, it's motivating. The thing I've found is the things that are most difficult, that's when it's the most rewarding. You've got to play the cards you're dealt.

"We know we can win this Cup, they can take as many [points] from us as they want, but we can control our own destiny. The boys are incredibly fired up and I have absolute confidence we can do it."

His attitude is really no different from when his team were 1-8 down in the series. The the only difference is that now we believe him.


- NZ Herald

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