Inspired choice of Ben Ainslie key to Oracle's victory in America's Cup
Defenders were down and out when the four-time Olympic champion came on board, but his expertise turned it all around
British four-time Olympic champion Ben Ainslie says he realised a lifelong dream by inspiring Oracle Team USA to an improbable win in the America's Cup.
He replaced John Kostecki as Oracle's tactician ahead of races six and seven last week and the move proved inspired. With his guile and expertise, Oracle recovered from an 8-1 deficit to overhaul Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8 to clinch sailing's greatest prize.
All but defeated a week ago, Australian captain Jimmy Spithill and his crew sailed with no margin for error for eight races in a new class of boats that had a learning curve that was almost straight up.
"To be part of a winning America's Cup team is for me personally part of a lifelong dream," said 36-year-old Ainslie.
"I grew up down in Falmouth in Cornwall. We had an America's Cup team down there in 1987 and I remember as a kid watching them training and preparing and thinking about maybe one day being involved with the America's Cup."
Explaining the secret to Oracle's success, Ainslie said: "We never stopped believing we could improve and get back into the competition.
"It got harder and harder for us, but ultimately we hung on in there and won that deciding race, so the team did an incredible job.
"We just grew and grew and in the end we were too strong for the Kiwis."
Ainslie's elevation from the warm-up crew to replace Kostecki was a crucial catalyst in turning Oracle's fortunes around to achieve one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
"It was a pretty big shift," the Briton said. "It was a big call for the management to make, but I gelled really well with Jimmy Spithill, the skipper of the team. We got stuck into the challenge and we turned things around.
"It's quite unbelievable to think where we were 10 days ago, to come back from that."
He dedicated the win to his late friend Andrew Simpson.
British Olympian Simpson, known as Bart, was killed in a training accident in May, an event which so shocked the sport that there were questions over whether the 34th America's Cup would even take place.
"I finished the race today, one of the most amazing races I've ever been a part of, but myself and I think a couple of other guys on the boat, our thoughts are with Andrew and his family," he said. "That race today was for him and he would have loved it."
Billionaire Oracle chief Larry Ellison said the thrilling series had changed the face of the sport.
The latest edition of the prestigious yacht race had threatened to descend into chaos earlier this year following the decision to switch to the super-fast AC72 catamarans.
The death of Simpson heightened concerns over the safety of the boats used for the cup.
Ellison said, however, that the move to AC72s had been vindicated by the dramatic finale to the race. "There was a lot of criticism about these boats," Ellison said. "I felt I should keep my mouth shut and let the boats and the sailors demonstrate whether the vision was right or wrong.
"This regatta has changed sailing forever. It was the most beautiful regatta I have ever seen."
Many now wonder if the sport will ever return to using slower yachts.
"I think the AC72s have found a sweet spot with the people," said regatta director Iain Murray. "They were challenging, exciting, and provided a great platform for these races."
As winner, Ellison will get to dictate the location and types of boats used in the next series.
"I'd love to come back to San Francisco. I have a house here," Ellison said. "But we are going to sit down and talk to the officials in San Francisco and see if it will be possible to come back."
He joked that the next cup would be around the Hawaiian Island of Lanai, which he recently bought.
Ellison, ranked third richest person in the United States due to his business software company Oracle, is believed to have poured more than US$100 million into the team.
"It costs about the same to win as to lose, and it is certainly better to win the cup," Ellison said while skirting around precisely how much he spent to keep the trophy. "I don't think anyone thinks about the money."