How Burling pulled a fast one on Spithill
Team New Zealand ace Peter Burling was under orders to bluff his abilities in the starting box before his demolition of Jimmy Spithill in the America’s Cup match.
It proved a masterstroke. Burling’s apparent rapid development in this key area was central to Team New Zealand’s 7-1 win over Oracle Team USA to win back the Auld Mug in Bermuda.
Spithill’s aggression and reputation as the best starter in the business always loomed as a worry for the Kiwis heading into the match, especially given Burling’s patchy starting form during the round-robin phase of the regatta.
There were signs of improvement from the 26-year-old Burling in the Challengers final against Sweden’s Artemis Racing but nothing like the dominance he suddenly displayed to destroy Spithill at his own game.
Burling won the starts 7-2 (remember there were actually nine races after the Kiwis were forced to enter the match at -1).
Team New Zealand principal Matteo de Nora revealed the team had pur- posely hidden Burling’s starting box talents.
‘‘He was always stronger during the start than what he was showing,’’ de Nora said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa. ‘‘He was told not to be too impetuous.’’
With a fast boat, the Kiwis had the luxury of regularly beating opponents in a game of catchup during the opening stages of the regatta, hiding Bur- ling’s true talents.
But they were also eager to maximise a remarkable statistic for the final.
Team New Zealand’s boat never lost a race once it got to the opening mark first.
The team’s coaches highlighted this as an area to concentrate on for Burling, whose match-racing experience was virtually non-existent before heading to Bermuda with his stunning Olympic success based on fleet racing in the 49er skiffs.
The gifted Burling showed his ability to learn quickly as he mastered the arts of the cat-and-mouse plays in the two minutes leading up to the starting gun in Cup races.
Burling’s coup de grace of Spithill came in the penultimate race when he brilliantly overlapped and hooked the double-Cup winner, leaving the American boat stalled as ‘‘Pistol’’ Pete pulled the trigger and accelerated off for an incredible 14s advantage over the start line.
A bit like the neverending updates of the remarkable Kiwi boat, it was a case of keeping a sailing trick up their sleeve for the money moment of the Cup final.