Wow. The Superbowl was quite something wasn’t it? Tom Brady taking his record to seven and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming back from a November slump to play their game of their season and upset the odds right when it mattered. That’s sport. That’s what we’re talking about and the whole spectacle of it was just magnificent – and I sincerely doubt that there’ll be a better half-time concert than The Weeknd’s in the next decade. It was utterly spectacular. Goose-bump inducing action. Whilst Tampa took the glory at the Raymond James Stadium in their hometown, you had to feel for the Kansas City Chiefs and their magician of a quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The man that can spin a pass from impossible positions just couldn’t get firing as the marauding Tampa line made his day a misery. Fabulous sport at the highest level.
And as we get primed for the weekend action in the America’s Cup we just hope that it’s a sporting spectacle worthy of the action we saw in the Superbowl. It should be. All the ingredients are right there and there’s enough needle to keep a Chanel seamstress in Paris happy for a haute couture season. Sport needs its Brady’s and Mahomes’s. It needs Hamilton versus Verstappen. It needs Djokovic versus Nadal. It needs Fury versus Wilder. The Cup needs Ainslie versus Spithill. And in due course it needs Ainslie versus Burling. But I get ahead of myself….
It’s no secret that both teams have been muted in their preparation and that’s a sign of just how serious this all is now. Ineos had an extended period in the shed but came back out looking pretty much the same to the naked eye (not sure what we expected really?) but sailing like a rocketship. It looks a little twitchier in flight on the rudder but there are some big gains up in the mainsail control as they aggressively fan the canvas like an Olympic windsurfer. The flight looks stable and assured. Rock solid. And that is fantastic to see.
Meanwhile the Italians have been putting in the hours with the coaches actually onboard trying to figure out some crisp communications and get a clear tactical command order. If they don’t nail that, it’s game over. Whether the comms all go to pot when the pressure comes on remains to be seen and tested at the limit. That’s coming on Saturday. It’s just one more ingredient that makes this match up so tough to call but so fascinating to watch. Prada looks stunning. The detailing is magnificent but is it fast enough to take on Ineos over a series? The bookies have it all Ineos by a country mile but they’ve been utterly wrong throughout this series and are just responding to the order flows. Bookies are no indication whatsoever of performance – the skill set to see it and understand it, just isn’t there.
So where’s the smart money going? Looking at the conditions it should be all Prada on the opening day and then it gets mighty tough. If Ineos win on Saturday, we could be looking at a whitewash. But if Prada can eke out a Brady-esque performance and convert their promise then their tails will be higher than a Labrador on heat. Momentum, just like in the Superbowl is a killer of opposition’s form. Forget what the bookies or the experts say, sport can be won on sheer will power. That period when sportsmen get into the zone, can make them invincible. Ineos has to stop any form of momentum building.
Ben Ainslie knows this better than just about anyone on the planet. He’s unbelievable when he’s down. Actually it brings out the very best in his competitive nature. I remember being in the media at Athens in 2004 when Guillaume Florent protested him out in race two of a fourteen race series for a port/starboard incident. On the podium, he was struggling to hide his anger. Outside, round the back of the media centre and out of the limelight chatting small talk, he was furious. Ben had to sail the regatta of his life to eke that gold medal and it was just about the greatest regatta I ever had the pleasure of watching and witnessing.
The big question is whether the Ineos designers, backed by Mercedes in the foil and aero departments has found the boatspeed in the boat to be just one click faster than Prada. If they’ve unlocked a small bit of point and VMG then seriously it’s goodnight to the Italians.
Everything is looking very refined on Ineos and it will be sailed like it’s been stolen. Ben and the team will leave absolutely nothing on the table. The big boss, he with the cash, is talking it down in the media, good for him, saying that they are the “underdogs” but no-one is really buying that after their performance in the Round Robins. The really experienced Cup commentators have a phrase that 30 seconds off the start line is the time when “we know” and that first line up is going to give us all the answers.
It’s going to be fireworks in the pre-start. A masterclass in tactical and positional play. It’s going to be electric downwind. All the tricks of the trade will be on display. Bring it on.
All it’s missing is a half-time show with an ‘a la mode’ pop star, dancers and a light show.
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