Team NZ praying for miracle in San Francisco
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE, KEVIN NORQUAY AND ALEX FENSOME
After all the millions of dollars, all the excitement and the bragging and the lawsuits, it comes down to this.
One race to hope for a miracle.
And already the black humour has begun: "The last time there was a miracle that big, a massive star appeared in the east," Aussie sports writer and former Wallabies rugby player Peter FitzSimons tweeted yesterday.
From the euphoria of seven match points just last week, it's now sudden death. One race. Winner takes all.
Labour MP Trevor Mallard - who as sport minister granted Team New Zealand $36 million of public money - said a mood of anxiety among fans had replaced the excitement of a week ago.
The crew, too, seemed a bit down, he said from San Francisco. "It's fair to say they're not dejected. They're sort of angry.
"And they're absolutely determined to give it all [today]. It's important to them, almost as a family, to fight as hard as they can. They know it's uphill but they're not going to lie down.
"I think it's fair to say there are a lot of people who counted their chickens. A lot of people had expectations of winning.
"And at 8-1 that was pretty realistic and rational. But with Oracle having those straight wins, people now know it will take a brilliant star and some luck for us to win."
Wellington chef Martin Bosley is also in San Francisco, showing off Kiwi produce, and still hopes to be cooking for Team New Zealand at the final night feast.
But he admitted: "It was never meant to pan out like this. How we are feeling ... they will be feeling a whole lot worse."
The meal would be the same, whether the Kiwis won or lost the final race, he said. "It's basically a big thank-you event for everyone who has been supportive of the team here in San Francisco. We hope to have some, if not all, of the team present."
Auckland boat designer Brett Blakewell-Wright was among the believers. "Anything can happen. There's always hope, there's still one race left ... and we do hope," he said.
A different tide, a different wind, a different day could bring a different result.
"Frightening" winds are forecast for San Francisco Bay today, so it's possible the crucial race might not go ahead.
But Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker has not given up. "We know that we can win this," he said yesterday. "We will go out and give absolutely everything we can tomorrow. We are certainly very upbeat. We believe that we can win.
"I know that we have been saying that for a few days now, but there is an absolute belief that we can win, and we will go out there and give it our best shot."
"It's going to obviously be a tough race, both teams are equally hungry to fight this thing, and we will come out and do everything we can."
How Oracle has turned the tables has been the talking point of the past few days.
A lot of it was achieved by imitating Team New Zealand tactics, said Mr Blakewell-Wright, who was technical director for cash-strapped Team Korea before this regatta.
"[Oracle] have learned how to tack and jibe the boat in a manner they weren't doing before," he said.
"That was the big difference in performance in the first week. It was not so much that Team New Zealand's boat was faster in a straight line, it was that they were far better at getting it around the corners. You could see every time they tacked or jibed, they gained 50 metres or 100 metres. That's not happening now."
Barker refused to blame the wind speeds and time limits that have denied the Kiwis crucial victories over the past three weeks.
"You can't look backwards," he said. "There's nothing that we can do about the opportunities in the races that we lost. It was incredibly cruel at the time, particularly the one where the time limit ran out.
"But we have to be very careful that we don't let that be the moment that changed the history as such.
"We can still control our destiny. It means we have to be on our game tomorrow, we can't be asleep at the start and make sure we get ourselves in the race."
One of the many hoping for a Kiwi victory is TAB yachting bookmaker Kieran McAnulty, whose agency stands to lose more than $100,000 if Oracle win the cup.
The bets have flooded in on Oracle in the past few days, and Mr McAnulty admitted he was a nervous man.
"Originally, a New Zealand victory wasn't a great result for us, now we are almost pleading for them to win. We were still confident of a New Zealand win, even yesterday morning with two wins up the sleeve, but now it's not looking great."
- © Fairfax NZ News