Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA are vying for the Auld Mug. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA are vying for the Auld Mug. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

If you don’t know by now, we’ve got a race on our hands.

Yesterday’s two wins by Oracle Team USA mean that Oracle has won a total of five races– including the last four — to Emirates New Zealand’s eight victories, in a best-of-17 series that continues this afternoon. (Oracle actually has won seven races, but was docked 2 points.)

Momentum is clearly on Oracle’s side, though it still needs to win another four races. The Kiwis, meanwhile, need only one victory to reclaim the trophy they lost in 2003.

From Reuters’ report on yesterday’s races:

Oracle had the edge at the starting gun, then pushed New Zealand toward the course boundary line before rounding the first mark. It used this advantageous position to open a lead that the Kiwis were unable to close, despite closing to within a boat length on the third leg…

In the day’s second matchup, New Zealand continued to struggle to outmaneuver the increasingly agile Oracle team.

New Zealand dominated the early matches of the final, which began Sept. 7… But Oracle has made changes to its boat and improved its teamwork, and the two teams now appear remarkably even.

“We are going to get more out of the old girl,” said Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill. “We worked very, very hard last night and found some extra wheels.”

And while it’s a rivalry between teams and countries, it’s also a match-up of skippers, Oracle’s Spithill (an Australian) and New Zealand’s Dean Barker (a Kiwi). As the New York Times noted in their Sept. 22 story, “In America’s Cup, Rivalry Starts at Helm,” Spithill and Barker are talented sailors but wildly different personalities:

….the red-haired, hard-charging 34-year-old Spithill and the sandy-haired, soft-spoken 41-year-old Barker remain front and center: the men whose images — crash helmets in hand and game faces in place — greet spectators on side-by-side posters at the entrance to America’s Cup Park.

Oracle Team USA’s Spithill and Team New Zealand’s Barker are the skippers and helmsmen; the men at the steering wheels; the men who take plenty of quality advice but ultimately make the split-second decisions on their own that can often make the difference between winning and losing.

Barker had the big edge with New Zealand leading, 8-5, but Spithill was hardly conceding defeat.

He remains the bigger presence in any room and the livelier interview: one who never seems to flinch at a potentially awkward question.

“Actually, I love it,” he said.

Barker, in the same scenario, is prone to big and obvious exhales and body language that makes it clear he would much prefer to be back at sea.

Today’s races begin at 1:15 p.m. and – if necessary – 2:15 p.m. Stay tuned.



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