All sport comes down to key moments. Top level sport is about performing when it matters most on the grandest stage and as Team Ineos slip their lines and head out to the Hauraki Gulf, leaving behind the clamour and chatter of a frenetic week, they know that race five is effectively do or die. Go 5-0 down and epitaphs can start being penned. Reviews can begin to be commissioned. Bright paths to Challenger of Record status can be lain. But everyone that I know, is willing the Hollywood script to be enacted. Get the win and the world is a very different place. The headlines start screaming and the thunder rumbles.
Can Ineos do it? Well they have the fear factor and it’s bubbling like a Roman bath under the surface in every interview with the opposition. And it’s the fear of technology that is the trump card. Everyone knows the potency of Ben Ainslie. In this tournament we have seen Giles Scott emerge as a major global talent in tactical racing so that adds to the Ainslie firepower but it’s the looming presence of the unknown Mercedes in the background like a patriarchal rich uncle, that scares the horses. That fear of a sudden, dramatic breakthrough, a light-bulb moment that transforms the hard-to-love Britannia into a machine capable of doing the extraordinary is what has caused the off-the-water spats when truth be known.
But what of Luna Rossa? They have stunned the world with their performance in this Final. Nobody but nobody, not even the most die-hard supporter sat in the dusty heat of Palermo could have imagined the scoreline where it is. The Tifosi will be glued to their screens tonight, Ferrari’s F1 efforts and Serie A or the Champion’s League can wait for now. All eyes and all television screens will be tuned in to the Cup. Espressos will be stirred and downed.
The Italian people have gone crazy for it and in Luna Rossa they not only have the prettiest, most stylish boat of this Cup cycle with the most beautiful colourway and detailing but they also have a rocket-ship that has wrong-footed everyone. Right at the moment when it mattered, they lit the afterburners and delivered a performance from another world. We might have landed ‘Percy’, the lunar rover, on a red planet yesterday but whether Ineos can land a win on the rising red moon of Luna Rossa is another question entirely. Earth to Mars is 206 million kilometres – and that’s about the gap to Luna Rossa at the moment.
Dean Barker has been doing some terrific commentary in the New Zealand Herald of late and I just loved his analysis of the start box where he says: “There’s a very crucial point from 1m 15s down to that 55s range where there’s a lot of key decisions that have to be made in split-second timing – from when you have to turn back, lead back or push the other boat – and Luna Rossa have got that spot-on so far.” Only a racing sailor who’s been onboard can tell you that and it’s a fascinating insight in to just how quickly your day can be won or lost. Sportspeople all talk about ‘fine margins’ and this is beautifully captured here. Those 20 seconds tomorrow are what could define Team Ineos’s future and then that first drag race off the line and tack will tell us everything. We will know if salvation, or ‘whakaoranga’ as the Maoris say, is on or whether oblivion and a whitewash is inevitable.
As usual, the sofa is booked for 3am tomorrow morning. The dog knows something’s up. The biscuits are in the barrel. The tea is ready to be brewed. The neighbours are primed to complain. Like millions of fellow citizens in lockdown Britain and our friends in Italy, we will be tuned in, engrossed in the battle of the decade and willing our teams on. At the end of the day, sport is the winner here and may the best team win. On the water.
And by the way, these guys await the winner…Gulp!