New Zealand losing streak has fans fearing the worst

Mon Sep 23, 2013 11:31pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand yachting fans, who just a week ago were about to pop the champagne corks to celebrate the winning of the America's Cup, are starting to fear the worst after the defender Oracle Team USA notched a fifth successive win to dent challenger Emirates Team New Zealand's chances of clinching the trophy.

Thousands have gathered to watch races in yacht clubs, public and school halls, and around television sets in bars, cafes, and work places to watch the races, which take place at the start of each day.

Spectators, fingers crossed in hope, feet clad in red socks - a lucky totem from the country's first successful challenge in 1995 -- have had their emotions roiled by every wind change, tacking duel, and weather delay.

A week ago, sport's oldest trophy, known as the Auld Mug, looked destined to return to New Zealand as the challenger, skippered by Dean Barker, sprinted to an 8-1 lead, but Oracle's return has New Zealand fans starting to think the unthinkable.

"I'm struggling to keep positive, my faith in the team and Dean (Barker) is being sorely tested, we're only one (win) away, but my nerves are a bit like our chances, in tatters," said Wellington office worker Will Christie, who has been late into work so he can watch the maritime drama.

In a nation of 4.5 million, where it's estimated there's one boat for every four people, there is no shortage of either experience or advice.

"Team New Zealand can still do it, but they have to look at being much more aggressive at the start ... sitting there on match point I think they have to lash out with a bit of aggression," said Geoff Herd, the commodore of Wellington's Royal Port Nicholson yacht Club.

The test of faith is being reflected in betting on the races, as local punters see the chances of an upset.

The state-controlled betting agency, TAB, has slashed the odds of Oracle holding on to the Cup from rank outsider to still unfancied but in with a serious chance.   Continued...

Emirates Team New Zealand sails against Oracle Team USA during Race 16 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race in San Francisco, California September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith