He may be on the verge of a calamitous defeat but Jimmy Spithill’s cojones are showing no sign of shrinkage.
Fans of the Oracle Team USA skipper – a group that includes a surprising number of Kiwis who can’t help but admire his panache for eviscerating our fragile sporting egos – will have witnessed what appears to be a growing fissure in the cocky Aussie’s previously uncrackable countenance.
After waving goodbye to Aotearoa shortly after the start line in all four America’s Cup 2017 races, Jimmy’s own course has appeared to waver. First the Kiwi boat wasn’t faster. Then it “clearly” was.
For a man who favours the Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf (AKA Comical Ali) approach to dealing with blindingly obvious setbacks, Spithill’s backflip on the boat speed issue was quite something.
One day Oracle were just a bit unlucky picking the shifts, the next they were sailing a three-foiled dog.
The language filtering off 17 (the curiously dull name of Oracle’s crippled dog) also suggests a skipper and a crew who might just be caving under immense pressure. All of a sudden, the saintly sea men have developed mouths like, well, sailors.
But anyone being lulled into thinking Aussie Jim might just be losing his swagger should think again. Those signs of weakness are just a mirage. Because if Jimmy really was suffering any form of self-doubt, there is no way he would have thrown his boss under the bus for a race-one defeat that set the tone for the contest so far.
17, you’ll recall, was early over the startline in the crucial first encounter, an error that handed Team New Zealand a win that snapped a 10-race losing streak in head-to-head contests between the syndicates.
Most skippers would put their hands up for a balls-up that so clearly took the foot off their opponent’s throat. Not Jimmy. He flat-out blamed Larry Ellison.
“We had a little issue with our software – we were a little surprised with some of the numbers we had,” said Spithill when asked to explain how 17 had ended up a little over the line a little too soon.
When your entire multi-million dollar operation (not to mention charmed career) is underwritten by cash from a high-tech software company baron, blaming dodgy software for your failures must be fairly close to the top of the list of things you must never do. Hell, when the man who signs your cheques is still the chief technology officer of that company, fingering the software is pretty much the entire list of things thou shalt never even dream of doing.
“Don’t mention the software, don’t mention the software.” It’s a good job Ellison isn’t known for a silly walk.
It’s tempting to believe Spithill really did simply have a Basil Fawlty moment. But Team New Zealand fans have been down this road before. No one will forget Spithill’s insistence that the last Cup match was nowhere near over when Oracle trailed 8-1, morphing from the rantings of a man in serious denial into the prophetic statements of a sporting genius.
So we need to give him credit for knowing exactly what he is doing. If you are going to put your team on notice that things needs to change – and fast – then why not start at the top?
As Spithill pointed out, Oracle had just five days to fix whatever is going so badly wrong. If 17’s software was part of the problem, then Spithill chose the most direct route to getting the problem fixed.
But you wouldn’t want to be Spithill if it transpired that it was human error that caused Oracle’s major misstep.
Given how tremendously the holders have stacked the odds in their favour in this contest, it wouldn’t take much for the predominant view of Spithill to go from a man with a happy knack for rescuing impossible situations to a man with an unhappy knack of creating them.
If that happens, it won’t be the software that gets rebooted.