I am not sure I can stand much more of this, it is not just every sail and line on the futuristic America’s Cup catamarans careening down San Francisco Bay that are stretched to breaking point, my nerves are also twanging in sympathy and my finger nails are a dim and distant memory as the 34th America’s Cup moves into a cliffhanger finish after 18 races. The alarm has gone off at 5.30am every morning for the last week and the entire family has assembled on the sofa to watch the increasingly tense, we've gone beyond exciting as an adjective here, America's Cup sailing competition.
New Zealand, population 4.4m has been battling it out on the water with the USA, population 314m. I say battling but in fact New Zealand had them on the run initially, particularly as the Americans had been given a 2 race penalty for altering the design of the boat – not quite clear what they actually did, as it seems incredible anyone could make these boats go any faster, they already blast round the course at over 40 knots at times, with the boats coming up onto what are called foils to slice across the water. I would say they skim across the waves like hovercraft, except these are slim line, blade like machines from the space age that bear no resemblance to the wallowing hippo-like lines of a traditional hovercraft.
By last Thursday, New Zealand had won 8 races to America’s 1. To win the series New Zealand just had to win a final race – and they did, but they ran out of time – so it didn’t count – I think it was at that point the finger nails met their end. But never mind we all thought – or all of us down in the Southern Hemisphere Kiwi supporting part of the world, all they have to do is just win that last race and they’ve got 7 races in hand to do it – no problem was the mantra. Well don’t we look foolish now, America has now won 7 races in succession, and much though it pains me to admit in great style, and so as of this morning New Zealand and America are now head to head at 8 races each, and whoever wins the next race takes home the cup. There has been a certain sick feeling akin to watching Tim Henman at Wimbledon beginning to creep over me during the last few races, but I am keeping a firm grip on myself and just reminding myself good things come to those who wait, watching the action between their fingers as the tension mounts, Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory being a prime example.
You couldn’t get a more exciting final, and more of a Sponsor’s dream. There is a very nasty cynical side of me that says that the American boat is primarily a Sponsor’s boat – Team Oracle rather than a truly American national team. The American commentary team are not unnaturally enthusiastic about the three man group of skipper and helmsman Jimmy Spithill and strategists and tacticians, Tom Slingsby and Ben Ainslie who are storming the American boat towards the winner’s podium, but during the deservedly rapturous assessment of the partnership and their results, the commentators carefully avoid mentioning the fact that both Jimmy Spithill and Tom Slingsby, the Gold Medallist Laser sailor are Australians and Ben Ainslie is of course Sir Ben Ainslie, the British quadruple Gold and Silver Olympic medallist.
In contrast Team Emirates New Zealand might have the odd Australian aboard, those Aussies get everywhere, but the main men on the boat, skipper Dean Barker, tactician Ray Davies and Managing Director Grant Dalton are all undeniably Kiwis through and through and when you throw in people like Rob Waddell who won a rowing Olympic Gold medal for New Zealand in single sculls in the 2000 Olympics before he tried his hand at sailing, it just looks like a different kind of team.
Difficult one to call this one as a fairy tale ending – do you want the Americans, or rather the British and Australians sailing for the American team to claw their way back against overwhelming odds and it is hard not to cheer for Jimmy Spithill who has done such an stellar job of staring down what looked like certain defeat, or do you go for New Zealand, the underdog team in terms of population and funding who have fronted up and done an amazing job finding a truly representative national team despite the fact their population is
78 times smaller than their competitors.
So as a point of principle, and to support small nations everywhere and the Down Under neighbours I am cheering New Zealand all the way across the finish line. A certain selfishness also comes into the equation given I have lots of Kiwi friends and am thus guaranteed a bed in Auckland to watch the next America’s Cup if they win, so cross your fingers for favourable winds, and cunning tacks and jibes to see off the opposition tomorrow.
SO GO NEW ZEALAND