All eyes turn to Defenders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 1995, 12:00am

THE has-beens are tied up with the wannabes in the Defender series while in the Challenger series for the Louis Vuitton Cup, a champion-in-waiting moves relentlessly towards its destiny. At the end of Thursday's (Friday, Hong Kong time) racing off Point Loma, the big picture in the Challenger series became clearer as Team New Zealand crushed opponent's oneAustralia in another awesome show of power sailing. The victory by almost two minutes, gave the Kiwis a 2-0 record after two races in the best-of-nine race series. And the way it looks, it will be 5-0 by Easter Sunday. 'We feel pretty good about the way we are going and we just want it to continue,' was the modest reply from Black Magic's Brad Butterworth.

Considering that the Kiwis have still to be beaten on the water, and the way the Challenger Series is shaping, the main focus of interest now is on the three-way tussle in the Defender finals.

This is turning into an epic struggle with all three boats tied on two points each after Team Dennis Conner defeated America3 in Thursday's race. The two-minute-50-second victory has put Stars & Stripes on equal terms with America3 and PACT 95. But the significant factor, which has not escaped the attention of the latter two boats, is that Dennis Conner is back from the dead and has won both races he has contested so far in the finals. PACT 95's two points were a bonus for winning the semi-finals and America3 got one bonus point for placing second. With nine races to go in this finals round robin group, there is the possibility that all three teams might end up with one point each. If this happens, Stars & Stripes will be eliminated and the other two boats will sail-off to decide who defends the Auld Mug next month.

Tom Whidden, close friend of Conner and tactician on Stars & Stripes, refuses to even consider that. His stance is a sign of confidence for a team which in the semi-finals had all but been shoved out of the picture, but who are now back in the hunt. While Whidden was buoyant, the mostly women crew on Mighty Mary were down and out. They were learning the hard way that sailing is a tough business.

Twice the halyard broke and twice they attempted to release the jam, but to no avail and the women had to resign themselves to defeat, which was always on the cards after Stars & Stripes got off to a better start.