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Diana Nyad's Accomplishment Makes America's Cup Look All Wet

Sep 11, 2013
Originally published on September 11, 2013 7:54 am

For sportswriters the fattest target has always been the America's Cup. It's too easy. It's like all those political writers who make fun of vice presidents and think they're being original. Sportswriters have been going har-de-har-har about the America's Cup even long before one of their wags said it was like watching paint dry. Or like watching grass grow. One or the other. Maybe both.

But while America's Cup yachts can gracefully skim above water at better than 40 mph, Frank Deford says when he looks back at the seven seas in 2013 he'll remember 64-year-old Diana Nyad "plowing, all by herself, freestyle, through 100 miles of surf from Havana to Key West."

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

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In the waters off San Francisco, the U.S. and New Zealand are battling for the America's Cup, sailing's biggest prize. Yesterday, the scrappy Emirates Team New Zealand trounced the reigning champs, Team USA, by one minute and five seconds.


That is an eternity by sailing standards. The Americans lost so badly that before the start of their next race they radioed in with this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We'd like to use the postponement card.

MONTAGNE: A postponement card. That's how you call a time-out in yacht racing, which lasts for a full day.

INSKEEP: The Americans have had a rough Cup and New Zealand is now just four wins away from winning the trophy.

MONTAGNE: Sports Commentator Frank Deford has done something about this year's America's Cup, and about which nautical event really deserves a prize.

FRANK DEFORD: For sportswriters the fattest target has always been the America's Cup. It's too easy. It's like all those political writers who make fun of vice presidents and think they're being original. Sportswriters have been going har-de-har-har about the America's Cup even long before one of their wags said it was like watching paint dry or like watching grass grow.

One or the other, maybe both. And too, ahoy, sailboat racing is about yachts and, especially, men who are so totally one percent they, by definition, don't know how much yachts cost; conjuring up images of idle-rich swells in double-breasted blue blazers with gold buttons who get galley slaves to do the real work on board. Turn that winch. Raise that sail. Not that the America's Cup is exactly media sympathetic. It had, for example, the exact same storyline for more than a century, which was that the United States' yacht always beat England's yacht - 18-nil. England was our minnow long before Tony Blair was our poodle.

Well, the main characters really do have to be filthy rich to own monster yachts, so it's very hard to work up any Cinderella-esque or underdog stories, which is the mainstay of all sportswriting. The current American face of the Cup is Larry Ellison, who is worth more than the Federal Reserve. And sportswriters think A-Rod makes too much.

This year, Ellison has home water for the good ol' USA in the finals against what is called Emirates Team New Zealand, which sort of reminds me of the old Groucho Marx joke: I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know. What New Zealand is doing in the Emirates, I don't know. But then, twice, twice Switzerland - Switzerland won the Cup and Switzerland is as landlocked as Amarillo, Texas. Shades of the Jamaican bobsled team.

But as befits the likes of Ellison and Emirates, this year's yachts cost something like $100 million apiece to bring to water. Although they're monstrous catamarans which really go over the water more than they go through it - as God previously meant fish, whales, mermaids and boats to do.

Now, yes, the America's Cup yachts certainly are gorgeous, technical maritime marvels, and they can skim above gracefully at better than 40 miles per hour. But for all that, when I look back at the seven seas in 2013 what I'm going to remember instead is a courageous 64-year-old woman plowing, all by herself, freestyle, through a hundred miles of surf from Havana to Key West.

May the best catamaran win, but, never mind, the America's Cup this year has already gone to Diana Nyad.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins U.S. each Wednesday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.