American Challenge

By David

Occasionally Swimwatch receive suggestions on the content of its articles. Recently a good friend suggested Swimwatch should highlight the perilous state of New Zealand’s country schools. The suggestion had merit. Rural schools all over New Zealand are being closed. Not so very long ago the children of farming families could ride a horse or walk to their local rural school. Now they spend an hour or more in dusty school buses travelling to schools in regional towns. I went to one of the rural schools. It had three rooms, three teachers, a dental clinic, a shower block, an orchard, a vegetable garden, a tennis court and a rugby field. The education must have been fine. Three of my Te Reinga School mates ended up graduating from University with me. Fortunately Te Reinga is one of the surviving rural schools. Only two of the class rooms are in current use, but a filtered pool has replaced the Hangiroa River as the location of the school’s swim lessons. I decided the continuing health of my old school meant it was best to avoid using Swimwatch to discuss the plight of other, less fortunate, schools.

A second email this week suggested Swimwatch should tell the story of Bethany Hamilton. Now that’s a story well worth telling. She’s a Hawaiian born surfer who ran afoul of a 14 foot tiger shark while surfing at Tunnels Beach, Kauai. The shark took off her arm. Bethany recovered and is back surfing and winning some pretty big competitions. I recommend having a look at the u-tube clips of her performances. She’s bloody amazing. She says holding her balance with one arm is not a problem. It did take her two or three shots to get the hang of standing up again. The surfing world has taken her to its heart. You can tell that by the way their magazines refer to her as “the one arm surfer chick” or the “blond and tanned hottie, decked out in a yellow bikini and toting her surfboard”. On the world’s beaches such sexist praise is reserved for only the most respected subjects. Next time you don’t feel like going to your local heated pool for practice because you’ve got a cold or hurt a bit from weights, spare a thought for Bethany and get yourself down to the pool.

And so, instead of a social commentary on New Zealand’s education woes or a story of huge personal courage, I have chosen to discuss the ultimate rich man’s self-indulgence; America’s Cup yachting. The most recent 2010 challenge is even more egotistical than normal. Instead of the customary round of Louis Vuitton races to find a finalist to sail against Alinghi, this year it’s just Team USA and Alinghi playing with each other. Instead of the traditional 12 meter single hull race boats, this year the competition is between two space age multi-hull behemoths. Each boat is 90 feet long and 90 feet wide. Their masts rise 180 feet above the deck. That’s about 50 feet higher than the tallest mast on the 920 ton Cutty Sark. Instead of a best of five final, this year it’s the best of three.

Some things have stayed the same; some things about the America’s Cup never change. The competitors appear to be incapable of agreeing on anything important about their event. As usual the New York Supreme Court has had to decide on the rules and dates of the 2010 competition. Team USA’s fixed wing sail still hasn’t been approved and will clearly be the subject of litigation long after this year’s three races have been sailed. Of great pride to the small nation I call home is the number of New Zealanders in the two teams. Both team captains, Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth, are New Zealanders. I met Coutts at a New Zealand Sportsman of the Year dinner a few years ago. He seemed extraordinarily quiet. Mind you he didn’t need to say much. His sporting feats say it all really; Olympic Champion, America’s Cup Champion, World Champion and Admirals Cup Champion. In the world of sailing there is not much left for Russell Coutts to win.

Alinghi has five other sailors from New Zealand in their crew. Team USA has nine New Zealanders working to get the Cup back to America. They’re all tough buggers. Men like Dean Phipps, Andrew Taylor, Ross Halcrow and Murray Jones have been winning America’s Cup races for the last fifteen years. I’d trust them anywhere. They are proud athletes, caste in the mold of Hillary, Walker, Meads and Sutcliff. You want someone to win a race for you? These guys know how to do that. The whole event is close to being a race to decide whether my team of New Zealanders can beat your team of New Zealanders.

All this begins with the first match on 8 February 2010. Historically the 8 February has already seen some fine aquatic moments. In 1983 Eric Peters set a sailboat record of 46 days for crossing the Atlantic and in 1985 Michael Gross swam a world record of 7:38.75 for the 800 meters. Wherever New Zealanders are competing on that day; whatever event is involved, Swimwatch wish them well. A just and fair conclusion: one that avoids a trip to the State Supreme Court in search of justice.