Sailing: Just marvel at comebacks for they never make sense

Sailing: Just marvel at comebacks for they never make sense

After the comeback, after the improbable writing of history, after the extraordinary act of will, often the victorious team are at a loss for words. They cannot adequately explain the comeback for it is beyond even their own realm of experience. It as if they have discovered a new frontier for themselves. As Jimmy Connors said after yet another grand revival: "Did I really win this match?"

Did Team USA really win the America's Cup?

The fundamental beauty of the comeback is that it never makes sense. There is a point during a contest when we insist a team have no chance.

Their opponent is playing too well, the gap is too large, the time is too short. Then they win and we find comfort in the word "miracle" as if no logic can suffice for what has unfurled. Like in San Francisco Bay this month.

It is irrelevant if you come from a landlocked nation and cannot tell catamaran from canoe. To be 1-8 down and win a contest 9-8 as Team USA did at the America's Cup is impressive to anyone who can count. If you factor in the value we put on momentum and psychological advantage, it is startling. Reality in sport has again defeated the imagination.

Statistically one presumes such a win was inevitable. If you play sufficient matches, a team will eventually come back from 0-3 down at half-time in a Champions League final as Liverpool did. Or return from 10-6 down on the last day to win the Ryder Cup as Europe did in 2012.

But mathematics is a dry calculation in a contest of spirit. Why one man's will won't buckle like a cheap sail in a grim wind is a philosophical mystery. Why Muhammad Ali, exhausted against Joe Frazier in 1975 in Manila, could find another wind in the later rounds, is a discovery of desire we cannot fully account for.

Certainly athletes are conditioned to keep driving themselves for there is an honour attached to it. Fathers applaud courage, coaches demand it and locker room walls are tattooed with it. Who doesn't know yet football coach Vince Lombardi's words: "The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back."

But even as teams build cultures of toughness and psychologists counsel athletes, not every scenario can be replicated. You can't simulate vomiting in a fifth set as happened to Pete Sampras in 1996 at the US Open against Alex Corretja. You can't imagine being 1-8 down in the biggest boat race in the world and thus you can't ever be prepared for it.

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