In-tune Conner bounces back

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 April, 1995, 12:00am

BRUCE Springsteen's patriotic melody, Streets of Philadelphia was being played in the Louis Vuitton media interview room just before the start of the daily post-match press conferences attended by the skippers of the boats at the America's Cup yesterday.

But what they should have been playing was the John Travolta disco-gyrating Staying Alive - in acknowledgment of Dennis Conner, whose Stars & Stripes defeated PACT 95's Young America to bounce back into serious contention to defend sailing's grandest prize, the America's Cup.

Just a week ago, Team Dennis Conner, looked as if they could store their sails and pack up, being on the brink of elimination in the Defender's semi-final series.

But a last-minute compromise - which is still being protested by the other two boats in the Defender series, Young America and the 15-women, one-man Mighty Mary crew of America3 - allowed Stars & Stripes to remain in the water.

On Tuesday, Stars & Stripes proved that they intend to stay for a long time, maybe all the way into next month's final itself, by emerging victorious in a race which was vital to their hopes of winning the Defender finals series.

In the Louis Vuitton Challenger series, the all-mighty, all-black Team New Zealand scored a convincing victory over oneAustralia in the first of the best-of-nine race series yesterday.

While the Challenger series is pretty cut-and-dried, with one point being awarded for a win, thus resulting in the first yacht to win five races earning the right to become the challenger (and also winning the Louis Vuitton Cup), the Defender series is a trifle more complicated due to the un-precedented sight of three boats competing.

Team Dennis Conner (Stars & Stripes), America3 (Mighty Mary) and PACT 95 (Young America) will race each other four times in this series. One point is awarded for a win, with the top point-scorer becoming privileged to defend the flag, the honour of the nation and also the America's Cup.

And yesterday, it seemed as if that street-fighter Dennis Conner, who has won the Cup on four occasions out of seven attempts, would be back to lead the defence. The expert opinion was that Tuesday's victory for Stars & Stripes was simply due to a good start, and light winds - a factor which favours Conner.

'We had out breaks today. We got ahead early and it was a day which was good for being in front,' said tactician Gary Whidden. 'We are a pretty good boat in light winds and today's conditions suited us.' Stars & Stripes need all the breaks they can get. Going into the series, they trailed Young America (by two points) and Mighty Mary (one point), after the San Diego Yacht Club's Defence Committee interpreted the compromise setting up the three-way finals.

Mighty Mary's win over Young America on Monday, sees both tied on two points. Stars & Stripes' victory has now given them a point and a much-needed morale-booster.