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AMERICA'S CUP 1987 : Conner Sees Lid Come Off the Cup : Event Evolves Quickly, in Main Because of '83 Defeat

January 30, 1987|EDITOR'S NOTE: Stories for this special America's Cup section were written by Rich Roberts, Times staff writer, who has been on assignment in Fremantle, Australia, since late November. Roberts, a recreational sailor, has written extensively about the sport and covered all classes of sailing for The Times during the 1984 Olympics. He will report on the final series, along with Times' sports columnist Mike Downey.

FREMANTLE, Australia — After Australia II beat Dennis Conner's Liberty at Newport, R.I., in 1983, the America's Cup was never to be the same.

"We saw that change from 1974 to 1980, where it went from a summer on Long Island or Newport to considerably more effort," Conner said.

"A lot of people have given me either the credit or the blame for making that happen, but Ted Hood is the guy I got the idea from in 1977. He had the first two-boat program (with) Courageous and Independence, and they won the cup.

"In 1974 we started on Courageous in May. In 1980 we saw it go from a summer program into a multiple-year program and the endless campaign. Now, in 1987, we're seeing a transition from a minor sport into something everyone worldwide can relate with.

"The media has done a tremendous job to give this exposure so that people in America, I know, are now aware that this isn't just a bunch of rich people out there sailing.

"It's very exciting for those that sail on the boat. It's fun. It's a rush. If we can transfer the excitement into the living rooms, we have the potential here for--I don't want to get overboard--something that people will want to get into.

"Another factor is that the America's Cup is now open for commercial sponsorship and we'll see people take advantage of the boats to sell products.

"The beer people are into it in a big way. The beer people in America are avant garde in advertising and realize that this is a hot item."

Conner was asked if he might be sailing "Miss Budweiser" in 1990.

"I wouldn't bet against it," he said. "We've seen a fair amount of change in 13 years from what was perceived as a rich man's plaything to a real sporting event. And now, with the chance for sponsorship to help pay the bills, it's just gonna zoom."

The wild conditions off Fremantle have made the actual sailing more exciting than ever.

"There's a lot of challenge to sailing in light air, too," Conner says. "The racing here is more physical, but it's not as mentally taxing as racing off Newport, R.I., where you have wind shifts and other considerations. It's just a different game."

And if he fails to win the cup back?

"Life will go on for Dennis, win, lose or draw, as far as 12-meters are concerned," he says. "I love the people, and the event's fantastic.

"It would sure be a lot nicer to win, but I've already lost the biggest one you can lose, so it wouldn't be the end of the world."

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