Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Overdogs get a Whipping

What another fantastic day’s racing off Valencia. We probably wouldn’t have thought so, were it not for the fact that it was the perceived underdogs in both matches who led from start to finish. But when you’ve got Luna Rossa leading BMW Oracle and Desafio leading the Kiwis, you’re just waiting for someone’s wheels to fall off and for the lead to change.

Well, all credit to the Italians and Spanish, as they held the overdogs (is that the opposite of underdogs?) at bay. Perhaps we’re going to have to revise our perceptions of underdogs and overdogs. The fact is, BMW Oracle haven’t led Luna Rossa round any mark of any of the three matches thus far in the Semi Finals. That is an incredible statistic, and a very worrying one for the American team.

James Spithill is pouring on the aggression in the pre-start and is getting the better of Chris Dickson. Luna Rossa have won every start and BMW Oracle have been forced to fall back on searing downwind pace to haul them back into the game. It can’t help that Dickson is without his No.1 choice bowman, Brad Webb, who had to pull out a couple of days ago for some knee surgery. No doubt Kazuhiko Sofuku is every bit as able a bowman but he’s not had the benefit of honing his skills and communication with Dickson and the rest of the crew during the past few weeks of competition.

Having said that, Dickson lost today’s pre-start battle to Spithill long before the start gun fired. After being one of the most consistent pre-starters of the Round Robins, Dickson just doesn’t seem to be able to match the finesse of the young Australian. Of course as any good helmsman should, Spithill pays credit to the guys in front of him. “I’m feeling pretty comfortable just because I’ve got confidence in the guys - it feels like we have got a real strong team and the guys are really digging it in on the handles.

“When you’ve got that kind of belief it gives you that extra boost in yourself. The guys have pretty much said to me ‘put the boat wherever you need to and the sails will be there’ and they have delivered. So it’s full credit to those guys.”

Spithill probably has a brief to inflict as much damage on the opposition as possible in the pre-start, as does Karol Jablonski for the Spanish. When you’re the perceived underdog, it’s the best chance you have of winning a match race.

Look how dangerous Jablonski was against the Kiwis today, sticking a penalty on Barker. It’s what the Spanish thought they needed to beat the Kiwis, although actually they didn’t need it, because they led NZL 92 all the way round the track, a mighty confidence boost for a team that had never beaten in the Kiwis in any of their nine previous outings.

Both the Americans and the Spanish made a mode change to their boats last night. Of course, no one ever says what they’ve done or why, but when Spithill was asked his opinion on what might have changed on USA 98, he replied: “The rudder. That would be my guess.” A real guess? Or a little psychological dig at Dickson’s starting perhaps?

While there was no perceptible difference to the speed of USA 98, ESP 97 appeared finally to be able to match NZL 92 for pace upwind, an area where the Spanish had seemed to be a click off the pace. From being very much the fourth of the Semi Finallists, Spain is improving by the day and is not going to be the pushover that New Zealand fans might have hoped for.

At last, after a wobbly start, all is coming good in Valencia. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, we’re up to date with the schedule, and every one of the four dogs is having its day. Keep the good times rolling.

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