Oracle Team USA can complete the biggest comeback in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup regatta with a win today against Emirates Team New Zealand, which has been on the brink of victory for the past week.
The defending champion Americans won a pair of races yesterday to tie the series 8-8, setting up a winner-takes-all deciding race today on San Francisco Bay. The U.S. team has won seven consecutive races since falling behind 8-1 last week in the first-to-nine series.
The regatta’s biggest comeback to victory so far came in 1983, when Alan Bond’s Australia II rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to beat Dennis Conner’s Liberty in a best-of-seven series. That win ended the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year hold on the trophy, the longest winning streak in sports.
“We’ve got it in us,” Oracle helmsman Jimmy Spithill told reporters. “We’ve come back from a very deep hole. The boys have worked very, very hard. And we want this.”
Oracle pinned New Zealand in a bad spot at the start of the first race yesterday and forced the Kiwis into a pair of penalties that gave the U.S. a 16.5-second advantage at the first mark. Oracle never trailed, finishing 27 seconds ahead.
The Kiwis led at the start of the second race, holding Oracle off around the first mark and finishing the second leg seven seconds ahead. Oracle took advantage of a favorable current to edge close, then passed the Kiwis when they slowed during a pair of maneuvers as the teams raced back upwind toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
“It was really quite amazing, well, not so much being on the other side of it,” New Zealand skipper Dean Barker told reporters. “But you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
Oracle’s winning streak began after the team exercised an option within the rules to halt racing for a day and regroup. At the time, New Zealand led 4-0 on points. The U.S. squad returned with a significantly faster boat, particularly when sailing into the wind, where the Kiwis previously held an edge.
The team also changed key personnel, swapping out tactician John Kostecki for four-time Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie from Britain.
Oracle also has gotten some help from the weather. The Americans trailed in race 13 last week by as much as a mile before officials abandoned it in light wind for exceeding a 40-minute time limit with the Kiwis approaching the finish line. If New Zealand had won that race, it would have captured the Cup.
Oracle’s’s comeback has included a total of 10 wins, with two erased by a two-point penalty for illegally adding weight to a boat during preliminary competition.
Both Barker and Ainslie said their teams will approach today’s race like any other, ignoring the historic stakes. Asked what his team would do differently, Barker replied: “Try and be first across the finish line.”
Ellison, chief executive of Redwood City, California-based Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and the world’s eighth-richest man according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, didn’t give a keynote speech at the Oracle OpenWorld 2013 conference yesterday so he could be on the water to watch the races.
Spithill said he could sense the energy growing on both the sailing and shore teams over the past several days, with the entire squad focused on getting one more win.
“It’s not over -- that’s the key point here -- we’ve got to finish it off,” Spithill said. “There’s this huge wave of momentum now that we’ve been riding for the past few days and it just builds and it builds and it builds and we’re going to carry that into tomorrow.”
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