Sailing: 6-1 up but Team NZ won't count their chickens

Oracle Team USA skippered by Jimmy Spithill playing catch up against Emirates Team New Zealand helmed by Peter Burling on Sunday in Hamilton, Bermuda. The Kiwis won both races to stretch their America's Cup lead to 6-1 but are taking nothing for gran
Oracle Team USA skippered by Jimmy Spithill playing catch up against Emirates Team New Zealand helmed by Peter Burling on Sunday in Hamilton, Bermuda. The Kiwis won both races to stretch their America's Cup lead to 6-1 but are taking nothing for granted, remembering how the Americans clinched eight straight wins to reel them in four years ago in San Francisco.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HAMILTON (Bermuda) • Emirates Team New Zealand were due to take to Bermuda's Great Sound early this morning (Singapore time) in Race 9 with a mission - to finally wipe out the hurt inflicted on the sports-mad country by Oracle Team USA in sailing's America's Cup.

But, while leading 6-1 in the first-to-seven points final should make victory a near certainty, the New Zealand team are not complacent.

"We are not taking anything for granted," New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling said on Sunday after coolly steering his space-age 50-foot catamaran to yet another win over the team's nemesis, US skipper Jimmy Spithill.

It was Spithill and the team bankrolled by Oracle founder Larry Ellison who in 2013 turned a 1-8 deficit against New Zealand into a stunning 9-8 victory and a successful defence of the oldest trophy in international sport.

Burling, who at only 26 could also unseat Spithill as the youngest person to helm a winning America's Cup team, has exuded a disarming calm on and off the water.

He won Olympic gold in Rio last year in the 49er skiff class with fellow crew member Blair Tuke and has brought a youthful confidence to New Zealand's campaign to regain the Auld Mug, which was first won by the schooner America in 1851.

If New Zealand triumph, many will put it down to the revolutionary "cycling" system developed to power the hydraulics needed to control the catamaran's foils, which lift it out of the water, and the vast "wing" sail which drives it along.

Their "cyclors", including an Olympic cycling medallist, have kept their heads down throughout the contest, pedalling furiously to provide enough oil in the system to allow the boat to perform almost balletic pirouette manoeuvres on the water.

But, while the America's Cup is as much a design as a sailing race with tens of millions of dollars invested in the racing boats, psychological games are also crucial.

The charismatic Spithill has more expertise in match racing, the sailing equivalent of a boxing contest, and the benefit of nearly two decades of Cup experience.

Even after losing two races on Sunday, Spithill was not in any mood to give up, conceding they had been outsailed by Burling and his five Kiwi team-mates, but vowing to come out fighting again.

None of this seems to have rattled Burling, despite a capsize in a semi-final race which nearly ended the Kiwi dream. If he could show the same composure this morning, the man who has become the face of the team could win himself a place in yachting history.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline '6-1 up but Team NZ won't count their chickens'. Print Edition | Subscribe