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Gladwell's Line: On the eve of a new Record?

by Richard Gladwell, 19 Jun 2018 05:04 PDT 19 June 2018
Team Brunel sailing fast in the North Sea - Leg 10 Volvo Ocean Race © Team Brunel

In the early hours of Friday morning NZT, the final leg of the Volvo Ocean Race gets underway.

The 45,000nm round the world race has become a whipping boy for those who claim that it has lost its joie de vivre. That theme continued until midway through Leg 10, when 30-40kt winds hit the fleet, and then suddenly, somehow, Team Brunel made a five-place leap through the fleet to win the leg.

Of the other two front-runners, MAPFRE was back to her usual consistent self, recovering from a poor performance on the double scoring trans-Atlantic Leg 9 from Newport RI to Cardiff.

Dongfeng picked up a plastic bag or some other piece of sea-junk, took 24 hours to get it sorted out - and dropped down the fleet as well, recovering to finish fourth.

That shuffling of the Volvo OR pack set up an unprecedented final Leg shootout with three boats effectively tied on 65 points.

MAPFRE and Team Brunel have actually scored 65points, Dongfeng is on 64pts on the leaderboard, plus she will surely get a bonus point for having the fastest elapsed time around the Blue Planet. On that count, she has a 19hour advantage going into Leg 11, and even with the worst of luck, it is hard to see how anyone could drop that much.

Without too many ifs, buts and maybe's the overall Volvo Ocean Race winner will be decided by the finishing order of the top three.

Forget the tiebreaker of the In Port racing - unless there is a dead-heat for first place on Leg 11.

Of course Dutch-flagged Team AkzoNobel is keen to be first into her home port, and if that were so, she would take the bonus point for a leg win. However, that will not determine the overall winner.

Another point of interest will be the racing strategy for the Leg - whether the top three match race each other or just damn the torpedoes and leg it to The Hague. Either way, the winner takes all.

Then there is the question as to whether Peter Burling or Blair Tuke will become the first sailor in history to win an Olympic Gold Medal, the America's Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race.

Currently, the closest anyone has got to achieving the Everest of Sailing is John Kostecki (USA) who took 22 years to accomplish the feat, but fell short of the trifecta with a Silver medal in the Soling three-man keelboat class in the 1988 Olympics. His America's Cup win came in 2010 and in the 2001/01 Volvo Ocean Race he skippered the Volvo 60 Illbruck Challenge to a win.

If one of the Kiwi duo is aboard the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race winner, then they will have achieved the three-win feat in just 22 months.

Interviewed at the end of Leg 10 in Gothenburg, Burling was a little dismissive of the focus on the so-called Triple Crown of Sailing.

"I don't think either of us really cares about this so-called Triple Crown. We're just trying to win a yacht race."

He has a point - it is something of a Tenzing and Hillary question as to who was first actually to set foot on top of Mt Everest. Neither could have done it without the other.

After the victory parade in Auckland for the 1995 America's Cup, Team NZ was welcomed back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron by Sir Edmund Hillary. Out in the carpark after the official ceremonies had concluded an impromptu media scrum went down around Blake and Hillary.

One of the mainstream media asked Sir Ed whether he thought to win the America's Cup was more difficult to win than climbing Mt Everest?

That triggered the most bizarre and amazing response from two of New Zealand's legends as they each tried to argue that the other's achievement was the more difficult, the more meritorious and that they couldn't have achieved what they did without of the efforts of others - and all credit should be directed in their direction.

It was a very self-effacing and understated discussion - typical of many great New Zealand sportspeople.

One of yachting's media issues is that achievements in the sport are not easily measured relative to other sports.

There is not a lot of prize money in Yachting - so it's not like earnings can be compared as in Tennis or Golf. You don't hear commentators talking about a sailor as the Greatest Earner of All Time. There are no opening sports storylines telling how a sailor had a "rich payday", or talk of what their earnings had been in the season, or their sign-on/transfer fee for joining another professional team.

There's no real comparison between a Yachting Olympic Gold Medal and one from Athletics either. The perception is that an athlete spends several hours a day pounding a steep hill circuit; a rower cracks the frost underfoot before their umteenth two-hour early morning on-the-water session; a sailor just hires a smarter rules expert to find a race winning loophole. That's the way you win yacht races isn't it?

Maybe that perception has changed after the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race and the drone shots of the sailors in action in, and often under, the Southern Ocean.

Even if they won't admit it, many in the sports media still think of Olympic success in terms of "hard" or "soft" medals.

A Track medal - particularly one of the classic events - the 100 metres or 1500 metres - is definitely a "hard" medal, Rowing is a "hard" medal. Yachting's are "soft" medals - because there's a boat and technology involved.

A Triple Crown achievement genuinely exists in a few sports and recognises the accomplishment of being a champion in three entirely different facets of the competition. Like the mission impossible of winning the 100 Metres, 1500 Metres and 10,000 metres in Olympic Athletics. It's no "soft" achievement.

Hopefully, if a New Zealand sailor does win the Triple Crown of an Olympic Gold Medal, the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race - it will be celebrated as a significant achievement and not casually dismissed.

New Zealand Yachting desperately needs people who are "door openers" in the way that Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, is regarded in England.

The Triple Crown is a measure of achievement by an individual. But as Blake and Hillary noted outstanding achievement does represent the support of a team - or in the current instance, several teams.

It represents excellence in New Zealand's Olympic sailing program. It represents excellence in New Zealand's America's Cup program.

And hopefully in the not too distant future it will also represent excellence in a New Zealand run Volvo Ocean Race program.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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