In the first race of the America's Cup challenger elimination series, held on Sunday, July 8, 2013, there was "no second place" as Team Emirates New Zealand ran the race course all alone.
Most people with even a passing interest in the history of the America's Cup have heard and probably re-told the "...there is no second" tale, an incident explained in the Wikipedia History of the America's Cup description of the 1851 race in Great Britain that brought the Cup to America, repeated below:
"Apocryphally, Queen Victoria, who was watching at the finish line, was reported to have asked who was second, the famous answer being: 'Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second.' While this oft-repeated story was most likely welcomed by citizens of the still relatively young United States of America - who, less than a century earlier had fought two wars with the British - some historians argue that no one in Queen Victoria's retinue would have the audacity and courage to offer such an impertinent reply to her question. A more plausible source of that 'quote' may well be some unknown and apparently hyperbolic reporter for an American newspaper or magazine."
While powerful monarchs such as Queen Victoria are a thing of the past, that sort of hyperbole still exists. This is especially true in the world of major sports, and specifically in this 34th Defense of the America's Cup, which began today with the first race of a long series that will ultimately determine which team will have the honor of challenging Larry Ellison's Oracle team, the official Defender, which is sailing under the flag of the Golden Gate yacht club.
It's hardly surprising to hear promoters of any major event, sporting or otherwise, claim that their event will be "the best, ever." After all, that's what they are paid to do; ... promote.
And this 34th edition of the ultimate sailing match-race series has been promoted to the hilt, with promises ranging from having up to twelve international teams in the chase to - believe it or not - "making San Francisco popular as a tourist attraction." While this bit of over-the-top drum-banging is probably making native San Franciscans spew their latte all over their laptops, tablet or smart-phones, this claim - paraphrased, but very close to a direct quote - was actually made at least three times and in public by a VIP from one AC team. Now, that is hyperbole at its absolute zenith.
But something significant happened yesterday, July 7, that could change everything for the better, or at least inject a large dose of reality into all that promotion hyperbole. It's probably more accurate to say what didn't happen yesterday, and how it was received by the fans, was significant, ... and what didn't happen was the scheduled two-boat match race between Emirates Team New Zealand's AC72 and the Italian-flagged AC72 Luna Rossa, sponsored by Prada.
Without getting into all the complicated details, what happened was that Prada Luna Rossa went on a one-day strike. They simply refused to come out for the scheduled match race with Team New Zealand, their officially stated reason being that it was a protest against some rules decisions they did not agree with. While their official protest will be heard today, Monday July 8, and probably decided by Wednesday July 10, they wanted to make their point by sitting-out the first race of the series.
What made the situation even stranger was the fact that, under the rules of the event, if one boat fails to make it to the start line, the other boat is required to complete the "race" all alone, which is similar to a drag race where if one competitor fails to start, the remaining racer must make a solo run in order to advance in the eliminations .
And since having exactly half the field of a two-boat match race stay home tends to put a large crimp in the proceedings, those who showed-up to watch that first race from shore could reasonably have expected to be amongst some very bored, and possibly very disappointed fellow fans.
And that's when things got a bit weird. As Emirates Team New Zealand's boat began its solo run for two laps up and down the San Francisco Cityfront, some groups of the spectators on shore began cheering as the AC72 flew by, all alone. And when the hard-winged catamaran got up to speed on one hull, and then onto its foils, the cheers got louder, interspersed with loud gasps when the boat got close to the edge, with spray flying. And all this for a single boat. And for the promoters, teams and sponsors, that is a very good sign.
The fans were promised drama and excitement, plus a whole lot of other stuff, including a dozen teams. Now that the reality of "only" having three challenging teams, plus the defending team, has set-in, and after having seen what even one boat racing looks like out there, it could be that the fans will soon forget who didn't show up, and begin appreciating who did. After all, it only takes one defender and one challenger to hold the America's Cup Finals.
And as far as Prada Luna Rossa's one-race protest strike goes, the skippers and team VIPs are split in their opinions. One accused the Italian team of being "babies", while others supported them.
Another way to look at it was expressed a few years ago in a magazine article written by an Olympic long-distance runner, who was commenting on similar refusals to race - or throwing races they were in - by competitors who were protesting one thing or another. He wrote:
"Not to compete wholeheartedly, with a will to win, degrades the sport and insults the competition."