September 26, 2013

USA caps historic comeback to keep America's Cup

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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The crew on Oracle Team USA celebrates after winning the 19th race against Emirates Team New Zealand to win the America's Cup sailing event, as fans wave in the foreground Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in San Francisco.

The Associated Press

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Oracle Team USA fans cheer during a dockout show prior to the 19th race of the America's Cup sailing event against Emirates Team New Zealand Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in San Francisco.

The Associated Press

"We started this regatta slower than the other team but we ended this regatta faster," Spithill said. "That was an incredible team effort. That's really what won us the Cup."

Ellison praised his entire team for finding the right mode for the boat.

"The guys finally cracked the code, finally figured out what we had to do," the billionaire said.

"We knew we had a fight on our hands," Barker said. "It's really frustrating. The gains that they made were just phenomenal. They did just an amazing job of sorting out their boat. It's a good thing for us they didn't do it earlier. I am incredibly proud of our team and what we achieved. But we didn't get that last one we needed to take the cup back to New Zealand. It's just very hard to swallow."

As Spithill rounded the third mark onto the downwind fourth leg, his catamaran sprang onto its hydrofoils at 35 mph, its hulls completely out of the water, and headed for history. A final sprint across the wind on the reaching fifth leg resulted in a 44-second victory.

There were hugs and handshakes on the boat crewed by four Australians, two Kiwis, and one sailor each from the United States, Britain, Italy, Holland and Antigua.

Ellison, who has spent an estimated $500 million the last 11 years in pursuing, winning and now defending the silver trophy, hopped on board and was sprayed with champagne by the celebrating crew.

Things weren't always so jubilant, of course, but Spithill refused to let his team fold after the penalties were announced four days before racing started.

How big was this win?

In sailing terms, it was the equivalent of the Boston Red Sox sweeping the final four games of the 2004 ALCS over the New York Yankees, the only 3-0 comeback in major league history. It's also comparable to the Philadelphia Flyers overcoming a 0-3 deficit to beat the Boston Bruins in the 2010 NHL playoffs.

As stirring of a comeback as it was for Spithill and his mates, it was a staggering loss for Team New Zealand. Barker, 41, was looking for redemption after losing the America's Cup to Alinghi of Switzerland in 2003 and then steering the losing boat in 2007, also against Alinghi.

"For me, my job is to support the guys because they're pretty smashed," said Grant Dalton, the managing director of Team New Zealand who also is one of the grinders on the boat. "They're feeling it pretty bad. ... The country is really devastated."

Team New Zealand was funded in part by its government and its future is uncertain.

Barker was gracious in defeat.

"To Oracle, amazing. We thought a couple of weeks ago that it was sort of in our favor, and the way they improved and turned things around is just incredible. It was unbelievable," he said.

"It's always tough when it gets to a winner-take-all because it's such a great battle that it almost seems to be a crime that there has to be a winner and a loser," Spithill said. "Those guys aren't losers, they're champions. I've got full respect for those guys."

This was the first time the America's Cup was raced inshore and San Francisco Bay provided a breathtaking racecourse.

The catamarans were the vision of Ellison and his sailing team CEO, Russell Coutts, who is now a five-time America's Cup winner.

Powered by a 131-foot wing sail, the cats have hit 50 mph, faster than the speed limit on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ellison said it's too early to say whether the next America's Cup will be in San Francisco. He joked that it might be around Lanai. Ellison bought 98 percent of the Hawaiian island in 2012.

Regardless, "This regatta has changed sailing forever," Ellison said.

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