Turn of the tide
Sep 27 2013
Staging a miraculous comeback, Oracle Team USA beat Emirates New Zealand to emerge victorious at the 34th America’s Cup
Yet even by these standards, Oracle Team USA’s victory in the 34th America's Cup by beating Emirates New Zealand after being 1-8 down in the best of 17 series of races held in the relatively sheltered waters of San Francisco Bay will rank as an extraordinary feat. In the longest-ever edition of the regatta, New Zealand saw their tremendous advantage whittled away little by little to finally end on the losing side in a heartbreaking turn of events.
On Tuesday, Oracle finally overtook Team New Zealand with their seventh straight race win to even the finale. It took a major change of personnel for the Larry Ellison-backed unit — in the form of a new captain — to finally turn the tide before sweeping home to the title nine races to eight on Wednesday.
Ellison brought in Sir Ben Ainslie, four-time Olympic Games gold medallist from Britain, and a member of the warm-up team as chief tactician, to turn things around —the handicap made even bigger by the two-point handicap slapped on Oracle for cheating in the buildup to the series which was decided by a 44-second margin in the decider.
“It’s been one of the most amazing comebacks ever, I think, almost in any sport but certainly in sailing and to be a part of that is a huge privilege,” said Ainslie. “To be perfectly honest, we had a mountain to climb. We knew we had to sort ourselves out. We had to get the boat going faster. We did that. The designers did a great job and we had to start sailing better. We got the momentum going and we started believing in ourselves. When you do that, you can become quite strong.”
Led by Dean Barker, New Zealand — lacking a big single sponsor and supported by $30 million in state funds — were within touching distance of the world’s oldest sporting trophy in the 13th race when it was called off for lack of wind. From there on, it was downhill all the way.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team and what they’ve achieved but I’m gutted we didn’t get the last win we needed to take the cup back to New Zealand,” Barker said. “It’s obviously very hard to fathom. We went out there to give it our absolute best shot. We felt we didn’t leave anything on the table. It’s very hard to swallow.”
Oracle now have the privilege of deciding on the how the 35th America’s Cup will be contested having retained the title they first won in 2010 beating holders Alinghi of Switzerland.
It will be recalled that the run-up to the 34th America’s Cup was itself marked by controversy over high costs, boat design, the death of a crew member in a training accident, holding the races close to shore to increase television coverage (and revenues). In a sense, many true-blue sailors sneered at the measures introduced —including wind speed limits and safety gear, among other things, but in the end, as it sometimes does, sport won out with the unexpected yet again triumphing over what had once appeared to be the written script.
Said a wire report: “The thrilling final races were also a ringing vindication of Oracle owner Larry Ellison’s controversial decision to transform a once-staid yachting event into a TV-friendly, extreme-sports spectacle featuring huge catamarans flying across the natural amphitheatre of San Francisco Bay at 50 miles per hour.
“A lot of people who were never interested in sailing have now become interested,” Ellison said at the post-race presser. “This regatta has changed sailing forever.”