It’s no choke for Kiwis as Cup lead crumbles

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 11:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 2:26pm

Nervous Kiwis questioned whether Emirates Team New Zealand were choking on Tuesday after they again failed to secure the single victory needed to seize the America’s Cup from Oracle Team USA.

The New Zealanders have needed just one win since last Wednesday - when they led the regatta 8-1 - but the Americans have stormed back with five straight victories in San Francisco Bay to make it 8-6.

The New Zealand media late last week was confidently examining the economic spin-offs of hosting the next regatta in Auckland and speculating on knighthoods for the catamaran’s crew.

Since then, coverage has turned to agonised reflection on how Team NZ raced to such a commanding lead but has failed thus far to land a killer blow in the face of a barnstorming fightback from Oracle.

“The question now on everyone’s mind is: Are Team New Zealand blowing it?” TV3 reporter Hilary Barry wrote from California under the headline “America’s Cup this year biggest choke in NZ sport?”

Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper splashed the headline “In the doldrums” across the front page, contrasting the chipper demeanour of Oracle’s Australian skipper Jimmy Spithill to Team NZ’s Dean Barker.

The New Zealand Herald simply ran a giant black and white photograph on its front page of a hand with fingers crossed.

The regatta is already the longest in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup and each day it goes on prolongs the New Zealanders’ agony and diminishes their chances of winning sailing’s top prize.

Huge crowds anticipating a win gathered on the Auckland waterfront last week, many wearing red socks, a lucky symbol for the late Sir Peter Blake when he led New Zealand’s first successful America’s Cup campaign in 1995.

But the numbers have dwindled in recent days as the team has struggled to close out the Americans.

“We might hang around tomorrow, but we’re running out of red socks, we’ll have to do some washing,” spectator Dave Green told Fairfax Media.

Spithill said last week that winning from 8-1 would be the greatest comeback in the history of sport and the Herald’s yachting writer Dana Johannsen conceded the statement could no longer be dismissed as bravado.

“What once seemed like fanciful claims are now looking a very real possibility,” she wrote.

Bookmaker TAB had suspended betting on the regatta when a New Zealand victory appeared certain but was forced to re-open betting on Monday, admitting “Oracle have risen from the dead”.

“Oracle are now back in the hunt for the America’s Cup with a commanding streak of form. We’ve had to do an about face and re-open the overall winners book,” it said.

The bookmaker on Tuesday still gave New Zealand a slight edge to claim the Cup, paying NZ$1.57 for a NZ$1.00 wager against NZ$2.25 for Oracle.