18 Jun 2017

Oracle skipper: 'Always in comeback mode'

5:37 pm on 18 June 2017

First Person - It was one of Jimmy Spithill's quieter days from the media.

This was a serious Jimmy Spithill, not the jolly winder-up of "kiwi media" from the Challenger qualifier series.

This was a serious Jimmy Spithill, not the jolly winder-up of "kiwi media" from the Challenger qualifier series. Photo: Photosport

"The good news is, we're only one back."

His summation of the opening day of the America's Cup Final in Bermuda, in which his team lost both races to a fired up Team New Zealand.

Only "one back" because the defender Oracle TeamUSA had gone into the final with a bonus point, meaning Peter Burling's first win evened the scoreboard, and the second put the challenger only one point ahead for the day.

This was a serious Jimmy Spithill, not the jolly winder-up of "Kiwi media" from the Challenger qualifier series just three weeks earlier.

His team had taken a thumping, trailing by nearly two minutes at one point in the first race after falling over itself at the start, and crossing the line early, to be penalised and never in it again.

In the second, honour was partly restored by clawing back a more than one minute deficit, when Spithill's counterpart Peter Burling admitted blundering, in not covering Oracle as it went looking and found, better wind on the other side of the course.

Spithill was bumper to bumper with Burling as they rounded a mark, but Oracle again uncharacteristically got it wrong, and nearly stalled in an attempted passing manoeuvre.

It didn't seem the moment to ask him whether he was "rattled", a verdict he'd readily delivered on Team New Zealand's performance in an earlier challenger race.

Team New Zealand in their first race of the America's Cup final.

Team New Zealand has won the first two races of the America's Cup, scoring comfortable victories over defenders Oracle Team USA. Photo: Twitter / @EmiratesTeamNZ

Spithill hadn't turned off the niggle-odeon completely though.

As he worked his way along the broadcast media line for interviews, he stepped in front of me, and the adjacent TVNZ United States correspondent Rebecca Wright.

"Ah, my favourite people," he observed.

It was a reference to the opening media conference where it took only Rebecca Wright and I to ask the first two questions of him, to trigger an ironic greeting to the "Kiwi media" whom he'd apparently missed in recent years.

But Spithill was today the professional, answering well, with the traditional glass-half-full approach.

"Is he in comeback mode?" I asked.

"Always in comeback mode," he replied. Referring to Team New Zealand's San Francisco heartbreak where an 8-1 lead in the final turned into a 9-8 loss.

It's a possibility seared into the memories of Team New Zealand fans, as the pair prepare to meet again in similar wind conditions tomorrow.

Team New Zealand looked fast, and Oracle rattled. The latter is something that can't be counted on two days in a row.

I remembered another niggle-odeon line from an earlier Spithill interview I did.

"Are you insinuating Team New Zealand could win the America's Cup," he threw at me.

"It's possible," I replied lamely trying to move past the jousting.

"A lot of things are possible," said Spithill.

And he's right.

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