Editorial: Now this is a competition

Last updated 05:00 10/09/2013

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OPINION: Were the America's Cup to be just a zig-zag victory parade, it would be a tedious spectacle indeed.

But it isn't and it isn't.

So putting aside any question of sportsmanship - as seems to happen regularly enough in the history of this event - the Oracle Team USA win yesterday should be applauded for two reasons.

As it happens, yes, it did seem to be entirely deserved.

More to the point, it injects a heightened sense of drama into a competition in which Team New Zealand had been performing so well that the pleasures of watching were becoming perhaps a tad too comfortable.

It is no small feat that so many people are watching in the first place. Let's not deny that there is much to dislike about the America's Cup.

For starters - or technically before starters in this case - there's the two-point penalty incurred by Oracle before even the first race, for arrant cheating.

Add to that the patronage of the super-rich, the frequent calls upon the diligence of lawyers, and even the times when hindsight has shown that some of the most famous New Zealanders involved were the best patriots money could buy.

All of which means there's little point denying that the America's Cup has long had its repellent side.

But when those extravagantly challenging, exquisitely precisioned craft at long last hit the water in ardent competition, they seem capable of leaving such distastefulnesses in their wake.

That's when the hi-tech tensions become apparent, the seamanship and human judgments start making sense and the thrill kicks in. It's a contest capable of transfixing not just the less educated but also the hitherto-unmotivated viewer.

The first three wins were each fabulously watchable, albeit for differing reasons.

The first test brought an immediate sense of celebration, particularly after the predictions that it might emphatically reveal which syndicate had the superior craft.

The second strengthened the impression with a followup victory in pleasingly different circumstances.

The third race, yesterday, ticked off a come-from-behind capacity as well. By this stage the Kiwi campaign was looking nothing if not authoritative. In a competition where margins matter so much, Oracle seemed comprehensively outclassed.

But then, in windier conditions, the fourth race revealed some fallible seamanship on the New Zealanders' part, and impressive work from Oracle. It was not just an upset, but a result that knocked that sense of inevitability askance.

Victory is still encouragingly within reach and the Kiwis are just six wins from it, compared with the 10 demanded from Oracle. But the sense of potential defeat is, if not acute, then at least present. And when the crew are flinging themselves hither and yon on craft that seem to owe at least as much to space-age modernity as to seafaring tradition, the componentry for excitement is all there.

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Sometimes there needs to be a sense that things could go wrong for them to go right. Save us from wins achieved with the apparent effortlessness of gods. That's the last thing the America's Cup, already so redolently of privilege, needs.

And they surely know it.

- The Southland Times

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