Photography by Ricardo Pinto, AP, AFP
27 June 2017
New Kiwi superstar Peter Burling along with Australian Glenn Ashby and their passionate and utterly dedicated crew crushed Oracle Team USA’s hopes of defending sailing greatest’s prize with a stunning 7-1 victory.
“We’re just blown away,” said Burling, who at 26, becomes the youngest helmsman to win international sport’s oldest trophy.
“We came here to win the America’s Cup and right now we’re taking the America’s Cup back home to New Zealand,” he said, finally revealing some of the emotion he’d kept in check so well in the match races with nemesis Jimmy Spithill.
“I’ve grown up watching this competition as a fan and to be a Kiwi and taking this Cup home is a dream come true.
“For me, I think the reason we won was because of what happened four years ago. This team has gone through some really tough spots from San Francisco and to be able to reward this team with the America’s Cup is the best feeling, because they are such an incredible team,” said Burling who adds an America’s Cup to a gold medal in the 49ers at Rio.
There was an element of stunned disbelief In the Oracle camp which had all the benefits of an enviable budget courtesy of billionaire Larry Ellison to plough into R&D and boat development.
Then there was the human factor, of Jimmy Spithill or “Pitbull” as his known who humiliated the Kiwis four years ago, but was comprehensively outsailed this time around.
Spithill did tone down the bravado, post-match, acknowledging the New Zealanders’ tremendous achievement.
“On behalf of the whole of Oracle Team USA, congratulations to Emirates Team New Zealand,” said Spithill. “What an incredible team. They’ve been a class above everyone in the 35th America’s Cup and we take our hats off to you. Well done.
“They sailed better than anyone else out here and so, rightly so, they are the 35th America’s Cup champions.
“The defeat hasn’t really sunk in yet and it is definitely weird looking at the trophy and knowing we won’t be taking it home.”
Spithill’s critics point to a number of unforced errors, especially in the last three races, and his poor starts, as part of the reason for Oracle’s under-performance. But the Australian wasn’t prepared to shoulder the blame for the loss.
“With hindsight, there are a lot of things you would like to change but I think it’s far too early to say what might have gone wrong,” he said.
Both boats got away clean in the final race, but the defender to windward accelerated better off the line to lead at mark one.
However, with Oracle electing to use bigger daggerfoils than yesterday, anticipating less wind than there actually was. The impact was immediately seen on the next leg. With their superior downwind speed, the Kiwis rolled Oracle after the first gybe and were leading at the second mark.
Burling was again cool at the helm of Aotearoa as he steered his team towards glory, but Spithill and his crew were not giving up, constantly splitting to gain leverage, but the Kiwis never opened the door whatsoever to let them back in the contest.
After the upwind leg New Zealand’s lead increased to 26 seconds at the third mark, stretching further downwind to 34 seconds at the fourth mark, and from that point, barring mistakes by Burling and his all-conquering Emirates Team New Zealand crew, the die was cast.
New Zealand sealed their win in impressive style, crossing the finish line for the final time in the 35th America’s Cup 55 seconds ahead of Team USA.
Even as Burling was lifting the Auld Mug the politics had begun, even though The Cup is heading back to Auckland, although quite when and in what format remains to be seen.
There was a lot at stake in this final given New Zealand’s role as conscientious objectors to the new protocols agreed by the five other teams. Now the Kiwis have the Cup, they hold the keys to its future. Suffice to say, there was and is plenty of frantic negotiating going on in Bermuda. Within hours of their victory, Team New Zealand had confirmed Italy’s Luna Rossa as the official challenger of record for the next Cup. But there will be at least three other challengers including the British and Sir Ben Ainslie with Land Rover BAR, and finally, an Australian challenger.
But nothing can take away from the Kiwis’ giant killing moment. They defied conventional wisdom and brought to Bermuda true innovation: radically different appendages, efficient hydraulic controls, dynamic wing trim, intelligent software, and yes, the game-changing cycle-powered hydraulics that allowed them precision trim and on-demand oil.
All of this, handled by a young sailing team flush with experience winning at the highest levels, was a combination that no one came close to in the end.
The fastest boat won, there’s no doubt about it, conceded the former Cup’s king, Spithill after racing, the raw emotions of the defeat revealed in an uncharacteristic quiver in his voice. “They fully deserved it,” he said, “they had all the speed.”
The celebrations in the land of the Long White Cloud will be epic and well-deserved.