Who will Pull Off a Pass in Open Play?
So it’s at 2-2 apiece after four tense starts between Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa. Note that I said ‘starts’, not ‘races’. Up until now it’s been ALL about the start. Both Blair Tuke and Jimmy Spithill commented after racing today on the power of being ahead on these boundaried race courses. The ‘eye in the sky for the TV commentary team, American Magic’s Paul Goodison talked about how far back the dirty air stretches from the leader. It’s a hard invisible barrier to get past.
Goody’s insights from the chopper have been commentary gold, while Nathan Outteridge in the studio continues to ask all the right questions. It was Nathan who observed that every race in the Cup up to now has been won by the boat that had port entry into the start box.
The start is by far the most fascinating and critical part of the racing. So evenly matched are New Zealand and Italy, whoever gets ahead looks like they’re going to stay ahead, making the boundaries the leader’s friend. Which begs the question, should there even be boundaries? One of the biggest roadblocks to sailing becoming a mainstream sporting success is that the effects of dirty air are always so powerful that the rich tend to get richer most of the time.
Sport thrives on jeopardy.
Which is why Russell Coutts introduced boundaries in the first place, for the 2013 Cup. A boundary-limited course was designed to ruin the leader’s ability to bang the favoured corner of a one-sided race track. But now I’m beginning to wonder if the boundaries are making the prospect of a pass even more remote.
That final match of the Round Robins between Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa was an absolute humdinger. What did we see on that glorious day, seven passes? But that fantastic race now seems like a distant anomaly. After a one-sided Prada Cup Final and what we’ve seen so far in the four matches of the Cup, it looks like that race will prove to be an exception. Which would be a terrible pity.
There is so much about this Cup that has been right. The boats are sensational. The teams are more evenly matched than any Cup I can recall. The TV coverage and storytelling is fantastic. At least, the storytelling is as good as it can be with what they have to talk about. Because these boundaried windward-leewards are dull and predictable. To attract a broader audience (and whether the Cup should even be aspiring to that is another debate), we need to see more overtaking. Lack of overtaking has been the bane of Formula One and it’s the riddle that has yet to be solved in 170 years of the America’s Cup.
However, if like me you are a geek for all that’s good about the Cup, listen in to two of my favourite nerds - Matt Sheahan and David ‘Freddie’ Carr.
Everyone - even these two experts - has been proven wrong throughout the past few months. And Matt and Freddie’s enthusiasm for being proven wrong is infectious. So for all my whinging about the lack of passing lanes on the race course, let’s enjoy what’s great about this Cup too.