A month or so ago, we media types were talking about how there was not one - but two places up for grabs in the Semi Finals, such was the perceived weakness of Luna Rossa at the time. Word on the street was that the Italians were struggling in pre-Act 13 training against the likes of Areva Challenge. The question was which of the 2nd tier teams would be joining the dead certs – BMW Oracle and New Zealand – as the other two teams in the Semis.
How wrong could we be? Now 3-1 up against BMW Oracle after another intriguing match in steady moderate breezes, they appear to be the equal of Americans in almost every department. Even the superior downwind speed of USA 98 was not in evidence today, with Dickson throwing everything but the kitchen sink at James Spithill down the final run but failing to unsettle the Italians who held their nerve for a 23-second victory.
It’s difficult to criticise a team that has just won, especially when the team tactician has five Olympic medals hanging around his neck, but why did Torben Grael put a small but comfortable lead at risk up the final beat by allowing yet another of these massive splits to develop?
We’ve seen some big separation between these two teams over the past week, but nothing like the 2.7 kilometre split that we saw today, with Grael going right and Gavin Brady taking the left. When they came back together at the middle of the top of the course, the Italians had gained one, maybe two boatlengths on the Americans. All that risk for that?
Then again, the Italians did round the final mark sufficiently far ahead not to be overly troubled by BMW Oracle down the last run, and the Luna Rossa gang looked more than a little happy when they crossed the finish line. In fact, maybe a little too happy. As Tom Ehman comments in his BMW Oracle blog: “At dock-in just now, the Luna Rossa fans next door worked a bit too much at being boisterous and exhuberant. I think that gives us all more motivation to go after them even harder tomorrow. No doubt we will come out swinging.” You’re doing well, Luna Rossa, but you haven’t won it yet. The Italians need to keep a bottle on their emotions for a few days longer.
Meanwhile, it was back to business as usual for Dean Barker and the Kiwis, after a solid win against the Spanish. Actually it was a pretty special pre-start by Barker as he pulled a ‘steel balls’ move on Karol Jablonski to win the right-hand side of the box, which he subsequently used to effect a ‘push’ on the Spanish boat, upsetting and slowing his opponent’s final approach to the line.
It was job done for Barker at that point, as strategist Ray Davies explained: “The emphasis was on being first off the start line and we put a little pressure on Dean to pull one out of the bag, and he did for us today. Certainly that half a boatlength lead was where the race was controlled from. We were able to set up to the left of the Spanish and there was never any right-hand shift they could come back on.”