NZ wins, even as the America's Cup loses

September 25 [Wed], 2013, 15:51
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The America's Cup may be a flop (so far) but New Zealand is coming out a winner in San francisco.

Team New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton Cup at the weekend. In the annals of our international sporting wins, this particular victory will not inspire reverence in years to come.

The Louis Vuitton had three entrants instead of the hoped-for 12. Artemis had to withdraw tragically from the first month, cutting back a three-team round robin to two, where every participant was already guaranteed a spot in the semifinals. Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand were left to race each other, when they weren't racing alone against "Artemis". Team New Zealand thrashed Luna Rossa so badly that the Italians went into expectations-management mode early, admitting that it would be tough for them to beat us, ever.

Artemis entered and didn't get close to beating Luna Rossa in the semifinal. They were in the competition only as a comeback story, a heartwarming storyline in an event that didn't have any storylines (beyond "these boats are prohibitively expensive and scary and San francisco is mad they had to foot the bill for an oversold event").

The finals played out much as Luna Rossa had predicted. Team New Zealand killed them. Well, when they could complete the races. The first three were decided by equipment failure.

Final score line: 7-1 to the New Zealanders. No come-from-behind burst. No underdog comeback. No courageous Stephen Donald penalty goal.

In hindsight, Team New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton Cup in April. All they had to do was not screw it up.

In conversations with people at home, I hear a lot of people sniggering about the America's Cup's lack of relevance in 2013 and the empty spectacle of it all.

I've seen a lot on display in San francisco that makes me a proud New Zealander.

There's Team New Zealand, for a start. The only team out of the four entrants not funded out of the deep pockets of a multibillionaire. Our team is funded by a collection of businesses, private individuals and the New Zealand Government.

Watching up close, these guys are working brutally hard to win the America's Cup. The life of a sailor in San francisco involves months of gruelling 12-hour-plus days, in the gym, on the water, strategy, putting the boat together, taking it apart...

Someone such as Grant Dalton has a job, the breadth of which I don't think a lot of people appreciate, mingling with sponsors as the public face of the team and managing operational responsibility at the same time as, at 51, sailing on the boat as a grinder, requiring massive physical fitness.

Every time I have been to the base I've seen the same thing: 90 or so of my countrymen (I think there's a few foreigners in the midst), working hard, heads down, smiling, happy to be where they are in the world, conducting themselves at a world-class level, extremely modest at the same time.

Team New Zealand came locked with the same steely glare for two contestants in the Louis Vuitton Cup as it would have for 20. It is not its fault the event did not inspire the passions.

But it's more than just Team New Zealand.

There's NZTE, in the Team New Zealand base each day, hosting events in the hospitality waka, taking sponsors and guests out on the water to watch the races in a floating corporate box. NZTE has leveraged the visibility of New Zealand in the city brilliantly.

They hosted Tom Cruise.

On the hospitality boat they've created a touch point for New Zealand businesses to network with American influencers.

When i was lucky enough to be invited out, the Team New Zealand hospitality waka had exponentially more atmosphere inside than the America's Cup base itself. Out on the boat, I talked with an original board member of Twitter, several local entrepreneurs, New Zealand businessmen and venture capitalists.

People in San francisco don't really like Larry Ellison that much. They haven't really enjoyed hosting the event.

Imagine if Peter Jackson, or some fictional mega-zillionaire who we had an even more complicated national relationship with, wanted to take up much of the Auckland waterfront for a sport no one in New Zealand followed and it wasn't as outlandishly popular and worth the effort as he'd promised.

As New Zealand's profile in San francisco has risen in step with anti-Oracle sentiment in San francisco, the common thought among people who don't even follow yachting is... go New Zealand.

There's so much. There are New Zealanders on every team. Each boat in the competition, Oracle included, includes products from our marine technology sector.

Cutting edge ideas, warm, open and hospitable, hard working, modest... a lot of what I'm seeing in San francisco, in and around the farcical boat racing, is what I see as our best national traits.

Wouldn't you say?

Now, we get the (hopefully) fun part. Team New Zealand v. Oracle. The summer of edge-of-your seat yachting hasn't really eventuated but this should, finally, be good to watch.

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