Take a walk around the America’s Cup Park, located at Pier 27/29 in San Francisco, and you’ll immediately notice three things: a sea of t-shirts proudly displaying Emirates Team New Zealand’s (ETNZ) colors, lots of Kiwi and Aussie accents and huge New Zealand flags. The Stars and Stripes are also present, of course, but in smaller doses (both physical size and sheer number) and with far less national zeal than the Kiwi contingency.
Dean Barker and crew acknowledge their fans on shore after winning their second race of the day. - America’s Cup
Imagine the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Stanley Cup taking place on the same day. For the Kiwi team and their loyal fans who travelled half a world to see the 34th America’s Cup, this regatta represents the absolute pinnacle of professional sports (with the possible exception of rugby), and, as ETNZ skipper Dean Barker has said on several occasions in so many words, ‘nothing less than victory will do’.
Step outside the media center and listen to the howls and cheers of excitement, all issued in an antipodean accent, and it becomes dead obvious that Barker’s words perfectly echo that of his countrymen. Nothing less than victory will do, but, based on ETNZ clean sweep yesterday, that’s now starting to become more and more of a possibility.
As for American fans, ours is a harder lot to rally around. Sure, Oracle Team USA is populated with some of the best sailors in the world, their leadership comprised of some of the biggest and most revered names in sailing and their design team spot-on.
The worry? The same thick antipodean accents that are heard from ETNZ’s boat during the races can also be heard from the comms coming off the 'American' boat. Sure, Old Glory flies high from Oracle’s mighty wingmast, but there just simply isn’t the same panache amongst American fans as there is from the Kiwi contingency.
To be fair, Jimmy Spithill, Oracle Team USA’s Australian skipper, is a huge name around the San Francisco waterfront, but in the States it’s baseball and football players who command the limelight, not sailors.
Even with the AC34 posters and flyers all over town, odds are good that Spithill could walk into a pub or restaurant on the other side of town without causing too much of a stir. Juxtapose that with Barker’s likely reception anywhere in Auckland (depending, of course, on how this week goes), and, well, the pixels self-populate.
Couple this with some legitimate bad PR that Oracle earned through their 'dervish in a dolphin striker' revelations from last month, and it becomes a bit more clear as to why more American/Oracle fans decided to be less vocal than their 'friends' from DownUnder, even if the crew also includes ace American sailors such as tactician John Kostecki, grinder Rome Kirby and Tom Slingsby, who is half American and half Australian (his mother is a Yank).
So what does this nationalistic banter have to do with the racing? Nothing, of course, but a fan can’t help but wonder if this is having any sort of psychological impact on the 'American' team as they attempt to defend.
Couple this with the fact that Oracle now needs to win eleven of the next fifteen regularly scheduled AC34 races to successfully defend, while ETNZ only needs to win seven more bullets to take sailing’s greatest prize back to Auckland, and Oracle’s true psychological nature comes into focus.
The weather is currently foggy in SFO, but the morning sun is burning off this layer and the forecast calls for relatively light winds, so hopefully the Race Committee can rifle-off another two great races today.
For anyone planning a visit, Marina Green offers amazing views of the course, while the America’s Cup Park is the best spot on the waterfront to take-in the finishing-line action. Just be prepared for a roar of Kiwi spirit, as all of New Zealand is demanding nothing less of their team than a rousing victory and the corresponding celebrations in Auckland.
Perhaps Oracle fans should consider this case study and wave Old Glory a bit higher in the San Francisco sky during today’s races.
May the four winds blow you safely home,