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Gladwell's Line- Kiwis bloodied but should be unbowed

by Richard Gladwell on 28 Sep 2013
Oracle Team USA wins the 34th America’s Cup Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa© http://www.lunarossachallenge.com

Oracle Team USA did what most believed impossible – coming back from 8-1 down to winning 9-8 in a series that stretched to become the longest running series in America's Cup history.

This was also the second occasion on which the second Defender to win in a winner take all Match. Australia II won the third encounter, and changed the face of the America’s Cup forever.

That’s the historical context of this outstanding win, in an enthralling contest.

Congratulations to Jimmy Spithill and his team in being able to punch their way back into the regatta, one race at a time, and then be able to deliver the killer blow in the opening half of Leg 3 of Race 19.

Oracle Team USA made some excellent decisions in the regatta. Probably the most outstanding was to call for a time out, after they had suffered an absolute thrashing by Emirates Team New Zealand, and were set to receive another, that afternoon.


'We need to go back and regroup. We feel they have an edge on us at the moment, especially upwind,' said Spithill, in the Media Conference just three days into the regatta, after Emirates Team New Zealand were onto a 4-0 score, and after the first race of the day, when the Defender looked set for a hammering in the second. 'We need to do a bit of work here and we’re going to play the card, strategically, and hopefully improve in time for the next race,' Spithall told the gathered International Media that night.

Spithill applied the same attitude that had worked so well for Australia II, in the 1983 America’s Cup, when the Aussie Battlers came back from 3-1 down. His decision came after Emirates Team New Zealand had sailed past Oracle Team USA from behind on the upwind leg after the Defender had won the start, and led the Challenger at the first two mark roundings.

Emirates Team New Zealand just sailed around past the Defender after just two tacks in little more than three minutes of sailing. Once in the lead, the challenger left the defender in its wake, sailing higher and faster to complete the leg 85 seconds faster.

'It wasn’t just upwind performance. There were a couple of mistakes there, tacking as well, which is something we need to address,' said Spithill at the media conference. 'We need to up our game. We’re not going to hide from that. We’re going to go away and do what we can to be ready for the next one.'


Spithill and his team were able to re-write the script as the series progressed. For sure they dropped another four races, but as every day passed Oracle Team USA achieved incremental improvements.

The key change in the afterguard, switching local John Kostecki out for the Boat 1 skipper, Ben Ainslie, proved to be a master-stroke, and the chemistry visibly improved in the back of the boat, getting better with every day.

Oracle’s call for a time-out, was a bold move, to get back what they were lacking to date – time.

Having lost four months with the capsize in October 2012, and several other incidents following - some of their making, some not - the team’s last play was to buy as much time as they could, and just take the racing one day at a time.

Spithill’s adoption of the mantle of the Aussie battler, deploying a degree of self-confidence and brashness was also a key factor, as he became the public face of the team. If anyone had to exude self-belief, it was Spithill.

It was clear, that in his mind at least they were not beaten until they were dead, and they were to a man prepared to fight to the last.


Slowly they crawled back. Luck certainly played a big part – giving them more time with very reduced wind limits because of an outgoing tide. That robbed the Kiwis of two race wins, and a bizarre time limit took another series ending win off the Challengers.

Oracle went out and trained every day they could. There was no time out.

Incremental changes to Oracle’s boat, yielded the required result, not immediately, but certainly to give them the early confirmation that the boat was improving rather than getting worse. And with their backs to the wall, there was nothing to be lost by playing the bold game of moding their boat during the Match, and just taking the risk.

Aided by more than their fair share of luck in terms of abandoned races and cancelled race days, Oracle Team USA was handed the time they needed to get their boat to the level where it could catch, and then surpass Emirates Team NZ.

While some were critical of tactical errors made on Emirates Team NZ, at critical times in the Regatta, the outcome was becoming clear a week before, to those on the water who could study a much different picture than the images sent ashore for the TV audience, print and commentary media.

While Emirates Team NZ are disappointed with their result, they will return to quite a different country from which they left last April.


The world’s most successful professional sailing team left NZ respected and tolerated, by the New Zealand public. They return adored and loved. Click here

While their future is on the line, their critics, even at a Prime Ministerial level have been silenced and who now seem to be very open about continuing with some Government support. Click here for an interview with senior Government Minister, Stephen Joyce.

The New Zealand America’s Cup program has been in existence since 1984, and has continued with some changes to the present day.

In San Francisco, a whole new foundation was built on which the team can be re-structured and expanded to work for the whole of New Zealand, and has moved beyond the point where its success can only be judged in terms of ultimate success on the America’s Cup stage.

As a brand Team New Zealand is now on a level at least equal to the All Blacks maybe higher, but that is an academic argument. The team and the NZ Government need to find ways to monetarise that success.


Certainly there is no argument that the brand is far too valuable to be let go, on the basis of the result of the Final Race in a 19 race sailing regatta.

For sure the team is an America’s Cup team and that is why it exists. But now there is a real understanding in New Zealand of the value that the team can add to all aspects of New Zealand society, as well as pulling the international headlines, media attention and initiating business relationships in key markets for New Zealand.

Oft criticized, the Government investment of $37million yielded a phenomenal return, much of which could not have been bought by conventional means, and the real tragedy of the 2013 America’s Cup would be for this momentum not to continue and be spread to other sports and initiatives.


On a personal note, the performance and demeanor of Dean Barker, every night in front of the international media, was extremely impressive – particularly in the latter half of the regatta, as Oracle Team USA began their ascendancy.

Regardless of what was running through his head, he was always charming, always generous with his time, and able to in inject that right degree of gallows humour, that is so unique to NZ sailing teams in their times of adversity.

He was ably supported in this regard by Ray Davies and Glenn Ashby, who continued in the same vein – even when it must have been extremely difficult, and one can only assume that the remainder of the team worked in the same vein.

They should all return to New Zealand bloodied but unbowed. The Kiwi nation is extremely proud of their achievements, and united in a way that has never been seen before. That has huge spin-offs in many ways, which must be realised.

The team does need to re-structure and refocus, that is the task of their Board of excellent people, plus a lot wider support group. Now is a time to focus on what you have done, not what was not Click here for Olympic Gold Medalist and World Rowing champion, Rob Waddell's perspective on the campaign.



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