Oracle force winners-take-all finale in America’s Cup
Defending champions extend their winning streak to seven against Emirates Team New Zealand
The longest America’s Cup in history will come down to two 72-foot, space-age catamarans making a final, dramatic sprint around San Francisco Bay, on a five-leg course framed by the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill and defending champion Oracle Team USA saw to that by extending their almost unimaginable winning streak to seven on Tuesday to force a winner-take-all finale against Emirates Team New Zealand.
Oracle came through a wild start with two collisions to win Race 17, and then sped past the Kiwis after they made a tactical error to give up the lead in Race 18 in strong wind.
All but defeated a week ago, Oracle Team USA tied the faltering Kiwis 8-8 on the scoreboard by winning its 10th race overall. Oracle was docked two points for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas and Dirk de Ridder, who trimmed the 131-foot wing sail, was disqualified.
If it hadn’t been hit with the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA’s sailors would be hoisting the oldest trophy in international sports in victory and spraying each other with champagne.
Instead, the epic 19th race is scheduled for Wednesday, weather-permitting, on San Francisco Bay.
Either Oracle will finish one of the greatest comebacks in sports history or Team New Zealand, marooned on match point for the past week, will get the win it needs to claim the Auld Mug for the second time in 18 years and ease the nerves of the 4.5 million residents of the island nation.
Oracle has gotten faster as it’s made changes to its black cat every night in its big boatshed on Pier 80 and has steadily learned to sail it better under the watchful eye of team chief executive Russell Coutts, a four-time America’s Cup winner.
“You can get wobbly in the knees or look straight down the barrel and smile; and that is what this team has done,” Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said of how his crew has responded to being under the gun.
“We have come back from a very deep hole and we want this. We will come out ready to fight tomorrow.”
While the score is even, Spithill said he still considers his team the underdog in the regatta - having to notch 11 race wins on the water to be victorious in a best-of-17 points series while the Kiwis can triumph with just nine.
“Both teams are equally hungry to win this thing,” said New Zealand skipper Dean Barker.
“We got beaten today and that is tough to handle, but sometimes you just have to accept those. It is frustrating, but we know we can still win this.”
Having won eight races, New Zealand has been on match point for almost a week.
Associated Press and Agence France-Presse