OPINION: Yes it was an exquisitely cruel defeat. The sort that might invite wan smiles and sour stomachs.
But it would be unworthy not to look squarely at the vanquished Team New Zealand, and the triumphant Oracle, and commend them for what really was a titanic contest. And if that adjective has unfortunate seagoing connotations as well as mythical ones, then fair enough.
By any untwisted assessment we were spectacularly beaten in circumstances that reflect great credit on the capabilities and mettle of the Kiwi challengers, and the nation that rallied behind them.
Which is not to deny that it's hard to be gracious. This was a competition infused with such speed and drama that at times it was less like sailing than really low-level aviation. And yet, from our perspective, it ended up being a story that played out with excruciating slowness as seven match-point races came and went, the realisation deepening with each one that the Kiwis' early ascendancy, so honestly attained, was simply gone. Oracle was performing better, and reliably so.
Dean Barker and the New Zealand team didn't choke. In the end the big difference was the automated foiling system that allowed Oracle to respond much more quickly than crew members could. In this, our American friends would be entitled to draw a comparison with their own legend of Paul Bunyan, the mighty woodsman defeated, in the end, by technology.
It would miss the point entirely to dismiss the Oracle victory as simply the result of hi-tech gear. Because it's all hi- tech gear. A lot of it is ours, too - developed right here. We cannot skite up our own cutting-edge technologies and grump when we are sometimes painfully cut by the edginess of somebody else's advances. Had that discovery been ours, we would be proclaiming it as testament to our innovative talents. And a lot of that Oracle talent was from New Zealand's capacious pool of yacht racing talent.
To claim, or even quietly assume, unfairness on the basis that Oracle was backed by cup-besotted billionaire Larry Ellison, giving it finances far beyond the reach of the Kiwis - even with their hardly insignificant taxpayer support - is also wrongheaded. The America's Cup is, now more than ever, a contest in which resources matter hugely, openly, and unashamedly. If we're going to be sulky about that, the time to do so is at the outset, when we're deciding whether to buy into the contest.
In terms of man-on-man seamanship, with Kiwi crew can stand tall. Theirs wasn't, in the end, the faster boat. But their conduct throughout the cup challenge, as competitors and as men, stands entirely up to scrutiny.
It will be really interesting to see how the rapidly evolving America's Cup will next transform. Holding Team NZ together will be a daunting, perhaps unachievable, task. We have the heart to continue, and the skills. But the alloy of attributes needed for this contest also include ridiculous amounts of money, and there's a strong sense that it's simply getting elevated out of our reach.
Still, Grant Dalton, Dean Barker and their team have taken us on a wild ride. They have earned our admiration.
- The Southland Times
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