Veitch: Team NZ must win back fans after past America's Cup heartbreak

By Tony Veitch

Team New Zealand sail their America's Cup Class race boat in Auckland. Photo/Hamish Hooper
Team New Zealand sail their America's Cup Class race boat in Auckland. Photo/Hamish Hooper

I love the America's Cup.

There I said it. I know plenty of you don't.

I get that there is a tremendous amount of ill feeling among everyday Kiwis to a team that sucked up Government money and then sucked, themselves, when it mattered most.

As one mate said to me this week, he wanted to emotionally buy back into the Auld Mug, but San Francisco was it for him. Game over.

The biggest choke in world sport - that was the opinion of many and fair enough - but there is something about this ridiculously litigious and bitchy America's Cup that makes me yearn for more.

I can't tell you how inadequate I felt, spending a day with Team New Zealand this week. In truth, I had no idea what I was really watching.

How the crew manage to get these 50-foot rocket ships a metre out of the water is way beyond me, but it's epic to watch.

I spent five hours out on the Waitemata Harbour and I couldn't get enough.

The cycling grinders? These guys are physical specimens ... and they are winners.

Line them up and it's a roll call of Olympic medalists and world champions, led by the infinitely likeable Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. They are two very different characters to former skipper Dean Barker.

Peter Lester, who knows a thing or two about yachting, reckons Burling is the best all-round sailor we've ever produced. Listen to his team-mates and they are also in awe.

Team NZ have learnt some tough lessons from the past, such as when to shut up and not alienate the Kiwi sporting public.

The humility that may have been lacking in previous campaigns has returned. The team have intentionally kept their heads down and headlines out of the newspapers.

That may have something to do with the small matter of a gag order. What a pathetic rule this is - any challenger who dares criticise the America's Cup, its rules or those in charge cops an instant US$25,000 fine.

Yet Russell Coutts can rant and rave about the bias of the New Zealand media, because the same rules don't apply to the defender.

We also hear all the time from Coutts about the whinging and whining attitude of Team New Zealand. He can do that, because he's the bloke in charge and the bloke who continues to change the rules retrospectively.

Can you imagine how all that sits with Grant Dalton, who did not back down in previous campaigns, when it came to a public battle of wills?

This time, though, he's returned to his core business of fundraising. I'd be surprised if you see or hear much of Dalton in the lead-up to or during the regatta itself.

Spending time with the Team NZ guys was an enlightening experience. Watching engineers on the chase boat transfixed by the data streaming into their computers showed just how "next level" this event has become.

It's sailing, but not as we've known it.

They are a united bunch and they are intent on being game changers. They know the rest of the sailing world is not buying into grinders on bikes.

Care factor? Zero.

They know, to beat Coutts and his endless budget, playing safe is not going to cut it. They know the New Zealand public is still sceptical and cynical.

But trust me when I say that when racing starts in Bermuda on May 26, these rocket ships on water will be hard to ignore.​

- NZ Herald

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