Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Oracle deserve the prize for great comeback but Team NZ should be proud

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Team New Zealand aren't the only ones who have collapsed. So has some of the response to Oracle's amazing and unexpected recovery.

I'll be cheering for an Oracle victory today, or whenever the final America's Cup race is sailed. They are on the verge of sport's greatest comeback and deserve the prize. A Team NZ win would be hollow, reliant as it is on the unfair two-point penalty slapped on Oracle.

Oracle were handicapped by their own rules, so the story goes, but a sensible jury would have sorted that. Yachting exhibited a strange way of cleaning its most famous shop window.

What a compelling, amazing sporting contest that brought the boats together, literally, yesterday morning. This has been a fantastic if overly long America's Cup, spiked with nail-biting action, the magnificent sight of yachts that are testament to engineering genius, and a reversal of fortunes for the ages.

Breakfast has never been better. If you love sport, you have to love this. If I could change one thing, it would involve removing the sailors' helmets which take away character. But safety is paramount.

In days long ago, as a kid growing up in Auckland, yachting was a mysterious adventure that crackled into my world via the groundbreaking radio commentaries of the fabulous Peter Montgomery, who could turn a mill pond into the high seas. Creatures with names like the One Ton Cup, Buccaneer, Young Nick ... they were given a life of their own. Much less is left to the imagination in San Francisco, of course, thanks largely to on-board cameras helping create yachting's finest moment for many of us.

Yes, the gushy coverage has reeked of corporate manipulation and not-so-subliminal advertising - it will take days to rid the brain of those advertising jingles. But in a world where footy fields get covered with ads, sports stars are turned into spruikers for junk food and shoes without soul, and cricket has been hijacked by bash-athons, the Cup excesses can take their place in a long line of crimes. That aside, the racing has been an absolute treat.

Larry Ellison's mob deserve to be celebrating victory already. They are only still in the water because of the ridiculous jury ruling that introduced a handicap system to this historic event.

"Cheating" or no cheating in another regatta held long ago using different boats - and the investigation so far is unconvincing because no appeal process was allowed - major and legitimate sporting events must start at nil-all. The longer this fascinating duel has gone on, the more absurd and disappointing the penalty seems. Oracle have won the best-of-17 on the water and final victory will remove the prospect of justifiable legal action, a situation that could turn into a right old mess.

Team NZ have been beaten, fair and square, in a fabulous contest. The national response isn't one-size-fits-all but there's definitely a nasty tinge to some of it. Dean Barker is copping a vicious bagging, and so are Oracle in cyberland. Ah well, freedom of expression and all that, which is a precious right that needs to be upheld. And we've all erred on that score. Hopefully, cumulatively, it doesn't go overboard this time.

Inevitably, a few malcontents are counting Ellison's cash but if money is the object of derision, then best to stay clear of professional sport. Money rules, from the English Premier League, F1 motor racing, world cricket where the touring arrangements epitomise the phrase that the rich get richer and more.

As for our national sport, try telling the Pacific Island nations that money doesn't count.

Yet come the final race of the San Francisco rumble, the two boats are even enough to leave this contest in the hands and minds of the sailors. The arrival of the Englishman Ben Ainslie on board Oracle turned the contest around. Ellison's money didn't create Ainslie, and it didn't create the Oracle mastermind Russell Coutts either.

When Team NZ were winning, the grinders were a sensation. When Oracle started winning, their grinders didn't get a mention and Lady Luck turned up. When we don't win rugby World Cups, it's down to cheating French forwards, inept referees and food poisoning. When we win it's down to our magnificent nation. Now Larry's money is at fault.

On the brink of disaster, Oracle regrouped with ruthless precision. The high-speed, mid-regatta design and team changes by Oracle represent superb thinking under pressure, which is what sport at this level is all about. A sailing recovery was engineered by tough-guy Jimmy Spithill and Ainslie, while Dean Barker and his crew have choked, just as many sporting combatants have been strangled by expectations.

Barker faces a life of what-ifs if he can't win this.

That's life in the fast - or not fast enough - lane, but spare a few nice thoughts for Barker, Grant Dalton and Co should they lose. They have done themselves and New Zealand proud in so many ways.

The bottom line however: a Team New Zealand victory would involve a stumble over the line before grabbing a trophy not rightfully theirs.

That's why I'll be cheering for Oracle.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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