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Oracle Team USA finishes historic comeback to win America's Cup

September 25, 2013|By David Wharton

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Team USA completed one of the greatest comebacks in sports history with a convincing victory over Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday at the 34th America's Cup.

Oracle's win in a do-or-die finale on San Francisco Bay made the final score 9-8 in the longest and arguably most exciting series in America's Cup history.

The American crew had to overcome a two-race penalty and an 8-1 deficit.

"It was a fantastic race," Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said. "We wouldn't have had it any other way, coming from behind." 

For New Zealand, the end came bitterly after nearly three weeks of wild momentum swings and the rival boats bumping and crisscrossing as if they were stock cars.

It was, as New Zealand trimmer Glenn Ashby said, "a ding-dong battle."

Wednesday’s finish added further luster to a sporting event that had begun with controversy and tough breaks.

Cup rules allow for the defending champion to select the site and the type of boat to be raced. Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison -- the technology billionaire -- made an unorthodox choice to defend his title on the Bay with a new type of craft.

The AC72 catamaran sails much faster than traditional monohull yachts, prompting some people to refer to the Cup as NASCAR on water.

That description seemed to fit when the boats proved dangerous. During training runs last spring, a Swedish boat capsized, killing one of a crew member.

Traditionalists grumbled even louder when Oracle was found to have added improper ballast to a smaller version of the AC72 during a series of preliminary regattas dating to 2012. An international jury handed down a two-race penalty, meaning the American boat had to win 11 races instead of nine.

The challenge seemed insurmountable because New Zealand began the regatta looking significantly faster, especially on the course’s critical upwind leg. Though Oracle won a few races, the Kiwis sprinted to an 8-1 lead on the scoreboard.

Then, facing elimination, Oracle made critical changes.

The shore crew came up with technical adjustments -- no one is saying exactly what -- to increase speed and management decided to switch tacticians, bringing in the British sailor Ben Ainslie, winner of sailing gold medals in the last four Olympic Games.

The American boat started winning and never looked back.

The difference was stark on Wednesday as Oracle survived an early bobble. After falling behind, Team USA made up the difference on that upwind leg that had once been so frustrating.

A crowd gathered on shore to cheer as the defending champions crossed the finish line 44 seconds ahead of the challenger.

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