Oracle completes amazing comeback in America’s Cup
By Julia Prodis Sulek
San Jose Mercury News
SAN FRANCISCO _ Nobody believed Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill when he called his crew the underdogs before the America’s Cup finals began. And no one believed him when, down 8-1 against New Zealand, he said they were going to make the greatest comeback in sailing history.
But in a dramatic final showdown Wednesday that will be regarded as the closest America’s Cup regatta in history, the team owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison proved everybody wrong. Oracle Team USA, beat Emirates Team New Zealand by 44 seconds for the oldest trophy in international sports. Triumphant, Sptihill and his crew pumped their fists and hugged each other as it flew by the shoreline.
Thousands of flag-waving Americans fans, who have been largely absent from the summer-long event, turned out Wednesday to cheer on every tack, jibe and nail-biting lead change along the race course.
The intensity could be heard onboard as well, as microphones picked up the voice of Oracle’s tactician Ben Ainsley, just as his team was starting to overtake the Kiwis on the upwind leg, shouting, “This is it! This is it! Work your asses off!”
The wins means the trophy stays in Ellison’s hands and, barring political trouble with the city that dogged the event the first time around, the regatta will return to San Francisco in the next few years.
The loss for Emirates Team New Zealand is as devastating for the crew as the island nation of 4.4 million. Team manager Grant Dalton, who at age 56 crewed on the physically demanding 72-foot catamaran during most of the races and again on Wednesday, had said repeatedly that if his team didn’t bring the trophy home this time, he wouldn’t be able to find the sponsors to support them for the next campaign.
But no fans have proven more loyal than the Kiwis. Before Wednesday’s race, Kiwi fans at America’s Cup Park had staged a “haka,” chest-pounding battle cry to inspire the team. Many extended their vacations to stick with the team to the end.
On Wednesday, with both teams tied 8-8, the 72-foot catamarans set out for the final race. The Kiwis were on the defensive, having lost the past seven straight races. The Americans had momentum on their side.
The race got off to a close start, but Emirates Team New Zealand led at the first mark as Oracle went off balance digging into a wave. The Kiwis led by little more than a boat length as it headed to the second mark, and held the lead as it rounded.
But everything changed on the upwind leg, when Ainslie challenged his team to get to work and Oracle, which once lagged behind consistently on this upwind leg, found the speed it needed to pass the Kiwis. It held a 26 second lead at the windward mark and widened the gap to more than 600 meters as it raced downwind.
Oracle charged toward the finish line in what America’s Cup commentator Gary Jobson called “the race of the century.”
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