Burling conquers Everest

24/06/17 Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Match Racing Day 3. Emirates Team New Zealand vs. Oracle Team USA races 5 & 6.
Copyright: Richard Hodder / Emirates Team New Zealand

It was in 1953 when mountaineer Edmund Hillary became the first human to conquer Everest that I, as a boy, first began to feel the immense pride at belonging to a little nation that could beat the world if it set its mind to it.

I was too young to realise then that Kiwi-born Lord Rutherford was the first man to split the atom. But since, like so many of my countrymen, I have taken huge pride in the achievement of our sportsmen.

After Sir Ed’s feat there was a 1956 home rugby test series win against the Danie Craven-coached supermen Springboks, clinched by Peter Jones’ Eden Park try, and his immortal “I’m absolutely buggered” after match comment.

Then there was that golden hour at the 1960 Rome Olympics when Arthur Lydiard coached athletes Peter Snell and Murray Halberg to win gold in the 800m and 5000m respectively.

Since then there have been many more such moments to fuel New Zealanders with pride. Right up there amongst the best of them is Emirate Team New Zealand’s magnificent Bermuda triumph in beating Oracle to lift sailing’s Holy Grail, the America’s Cup.

Having come back from the pitch-pole capsize against Ben Ainslie and continuing to sail on damaged daggerboards, it has been an amazing success story for Kiwi innovativeness, design and sailing excellence.

With Russell Coutts and Peter Blake having won it in San Francisco in 1995 before losing it to Alinghi in 2003 when Coutts switched his allegiance, the Auld Mug has been dear to Kiwi hearts which were broken in San Fran four years ago when Jimmy ‘Pitbull’ Spithill’s Oracle crew snatched it from the jaws of defeat against Dean Barker.

This time with 26-year-old Peter Burling at the helm and Glenn Ashby as skipper, Team New Zealand stormed home to an emphatic 7-1 victory, not only for the sailors and designers (who introduced the cycling concept), but for a shore crew that achieved wonders in keeping the boat afloat.

While Burling and good mate Blair Tuke are Olympic and world champions in fleet racing, they are relative novices in match racing. Yet the remarkable Burling proved a quick learner, especially in mastering the starts.

Congratulations to Aussie battler Spithill, whom Coutts once described as reminding him so much of himself. A fierce competitor who uses his mouth the same way Muhammad Ali did to gain a psychological advantage, he proved gracious in defeat.

Now it remains for the All Blacks to clinch a series win against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington on Saturday night following their 30-15 Eden Park triumph.

Having squared their games against the Super Rugby teams with wins against the Crusaders and Chiefs, losses to the Blues and Highlanders and a draw against the Hurricanes, the Lions are hungry for success.

But with Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett in such brilliant form for the Hurricanes after failing to make the All Blacks’ first test team, the Lions can only marvel at the depth of talent they have had to face.

Yet as Sean O’Brien’s first test try showed in capitalising on the brilliance of Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies, they are better than their critics claim. But, we hope, still not good enough to topple the men in black.