OPINION: You have to hand it to old Lazarus Ellison and everyone else who worked the Oracle.
The America's Cup battle in San Francisco Bay yesterday was destined to become the greatest comeback in sporting history - whatever the outcome.
Oracle's efforts in recovering from a 1-8 deficit to win the Auld Mug may never be bettered. But, it would have also been a massive sporting turnaround had Team New Zealand taken the time-honoured trophy after losing seven races on the bounce.
It's impossible to rank any other sporting recovery mission alongside Oracle's accomplishment. It was, quite simply, the greatest act of escapology seen in Alcatraz prison's precincts.
Great footballing feats, like Liverpool overturning a 3-0 deficit to win the 2005 European Champions League final or the All Whites' improbable 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia to force the 1982 World Cup finals playoff with China, were achieved over 90 or 120 minutes.
New Zealand sports historian Ron Palenski suggested yesterday the only comparable feat in our sporting annals was France's second-half rally to beat the All Blacks in the 1999 Rugby World Cup semifinal.
But, Les Bleus' remarkable rearguard action lasted little more than 30 minutes. Oracle produced seven sustained days of brilliant boatmanship.
A week ago, the cup holders were tacking down the causeway of defeat. Yet they turned the tables on the Kiwis. No wonder Dean Barker had his head in his hands after Wednesday's penultimate race. He and tactician Ray Davies had no answer to their rivals' oracular afterguard of skipper Jimmy Spithill and his two Olympic Games gold medallist tactitians, Ben Ainslie and Tom Slingsby.
Seven days! How much sleep did Barker get on those fateful final nights? Did he second-guess himself and his crew, his backers and boat designers?
Conspiracy theories no doubt already abound among those of us who barely know our port from our starboard. We're at risking of going from gybes to jibes as contrite Kiwis sift through excuses to explain Oracle's Lazarus act. The only grinding being done in the Pacific today is the gnashing of New Zealanders' teeth.
Why do the words, "all credit to the opposition; they deserved it" stick in Kiwis' craw? Especially those of us who get seasick on the Diamond Harbour ferry.
Oracle didn't just beat Team New Zealand due to Ellison's billions. They aren't the sailing equivalent of the Watergate burglars either.
Their United Nations crew outsailed the supposedly smartest sailing nation on the planet. Metaphorically speaking, they pulled down Team NZ's spinnaker and spanked its bare hull. As Team New Zealand chief Grant Dalton graciously conceded: "We were beaten by a faster boat."
But Oracle's comeback doesn't necessarily make Barker and his boatmates a band of losers. Let's think of them as a superb support cast to the greatest slice of sporting theatre served to television viewers this century.
Barker as Claudius with Spithill as Hamlet? They've turned sailing sceptics into yachting believers. Bring on the next act featuring these big cats.
- © Fairfax NZ News