Oracle Team USA knows it has target on its back in America's Cup Finals 

click to enlarge Oracle comes into the America's Cup Finals as the defending champion and will take on New Zealand, which cruised through the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals. - JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo
  • Oracle comes into the America's Cup Finals as the defending champion and will take on New Zealand, which cruised through the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals.

Ever since the America's Cup World Series first arrived in San Francisco last summer, Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill has made no bones about praising the "hometown advantage" his team would enjoy during the events in The City.

With the America's Cup Finals beginning Saturday, the on-the-water leader of the defending champions is sticking by that ideal, though recent events have pushed them into what some are calling the role of the villains.

Spithill said he already felt that spotlight by virtue of their victory in the previous America's Cup, three years ago.

"I think any time you're the defender there's always a target on your back, no question," he said. "The challengers always get together and their goal is pretty simple, they want to come out and knock you off and take this trophy. At the end of the day, no matter what happens on the shore, and all the games that get played, to take that trophy you've got to win on the water."

What has happened on the shore has rippled into what will happen on the water, however, as punishments for cheating in last year's ACWS will leave Oracle without its usual trimmer, and needing to win two more races than it opponent, Emirates Team New Zealand, in order to retain the Cup.

Still reaching out to the home crowd, Spithill likened Oracle Team USA to the Giants, Warriors and 49ers, and calling for the same support Bay Area fans have given those teams during their recent playoff appearances.

"We've faced adversity in the past, we've faced a lot of challenges in the past," he said. "And that gives us confidence, but if we can get the home people behind us in a tough moment like now, it'll be critical. We want to keep the Cup here. That's what's important to get in people's heads. We want to keep this thing here. These guys don't."

"These guys" came with a gesture toward New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, seated alongside Spithill at a news conference Thursday. According to New Zealand trimmer Glen Ashby, who worked with Spithill in the past before joining the Kiwis, there is one thing at least that the two have in common.

"They probably both want to kill each other," Ashby said.

Beyond that, it's hard to know what to expect from the best-of-17 series. New Zealand has rolled through limited competition in the Louis Vuitton Cup, and Barker and his crew have looked much like the machines symbolized by the gears they wear on the sleeves of their suits.

In the meantime, Oracle has raced its two boats against each other while dealing with the controversy on land.

Despite the advantage given his team by the penalties to Oracle, Barker made the next two weeks sound incredibly simple.

"You can say what you want, whether you think you're the favorite or the underdog," he said. "In the end, there's two teams going racing, and we start on Saturday, and one team's going to be better than the other."

The America's Cup Finals will have up to two races per day on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays over the next two weeks. New Zealand must win nine races, while Oracle must win 11 thanks to the penalty.

Oracle Team USA

Skipper: Jimmy Spithill

Country: USA

Yacht club: Golden Gate Yacht Club

History: Oracle was first formed to compete in the 2003 America's Cup, where it lost in the finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup. The team made a return in 2007, this time losing in the semifinals of the LV Cup, at the hands of Spithill's Luna Rossa Challenge team, which would go on to lose in the LV Cup finals to Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand. Spithill was recruited by BMW Oracle Racing for the 2010 America's Cup, which beat Alinghi 5 in the America's Cup, making Sphithill the youngest skipper to claim the trophy and giving the team power over the next venue along with an automatic pass to the finals. Penalties for cheating during the America's Cup World Series have forced a change in crew members over the past four days, but Spithill said he likes the blend of youth and experience on the team.

Emirates Team New Zealand

Skipper: Dean Barker

Country: New Zealand

Yacht club: Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron

History: Formed in 1993, New Zealand claimed two consecutive America's Cup trophies, in 1995 and 2000. Barker joined the team as skipper in 2003, where the team lost its defense against Alinghi. The Kiwis made a bid to reclaim the Cup in 2007, returning to the finals, but were unable to loosen Alnghi's hold on the trophy, losing 5-2, with the final loss coming by a single second. The team earned its way back to the America's Cup Finals by going undefeated through the Louis Vuitton Cup round-robin and beating Luna Rossa Challenge in the LV Cup finals 7-1, its only loss coming when a battery pack on board the boat failed, forcing it to withdraw in the middle of the race. Now the team looks to match the success of its compatriots in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, which won that event on Wednesday.

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Sunday, Dec 4, 2016

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