Oracle Team USA capped off a stunning comeback in the America’s Cup Finals on Wednesday, easily winning the winner-take-all 19th race to win the series 9-8 after rallying from an 8-1 deficit.
Never before has an America’s Cup lasted this long, nor has any other team in the event’s 162-year history won as many races in a row. The main reason for that is that none of the previous 33 installments have required more than five wins for victory, though that does not take away from what Oracle accomplished.
The only comparison came 30 years ago, when Australia II fell behind 3-1 and rallied for three consecutive wins against Liberty, taking the Cup away from the New York Yacht Club for the first time since the event’s inception in 1851.
Oracle was behind before any races had even been run, having been denied points for its first two wins of the series thanks to penalties for misconduct during last year’s America’s Cup World Series, meaning it had to win 11 races before New Zealand could take nine. Add to that a last-minute crew change when Dirk de Ridder was suspended for the competition, and you’ve got a script too unbelievable for Hollywood.
“I didn’t know we were going to win the America’s Cup until we crossed the finish line,” Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said. “I’m not superstitions but I know until you cross that finish line you haven’t won anything. We honestly didn’t think too much about the end result, all we thought about was just fighting back, just keep going, we can do this, don’t give up.” The ending provided one last suspenseful moment for Spithill, who insisted he never felt comfortable until crossing the finish line.
“It was kind of strange, when we crossed the line it seemed like the gun was late,” he said. “I was sort of looking at the boat going come on mate, blow the gun. When it went off though, it was a beautiful sound.”
The eight-race winning streak Oracle went on to claim the unlikely title was a stark contrast to the first half of the series, when it was simply outmatched on the upwind leg of each race, falling behind no matter what strategy Spithill’s crew tried.
The roles were reversed dramatically over the last two races, as both times skipper Dean Barker and the Kiwi team won the start and took a lead through the second gate, only to have Oracle come roaring past them on the upwind leg, taking insurmountable leads through the fourth gate.
Oracle trailed by 3 seconds at the second gate Wednesday, turned that into a 26-second lead at the third gate and a 44-second win at the finish line.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison — the driving force behind bringing the event to San Francisco and bringing new technology to the boats — boarded the team’s 72-foot catamaran shortly after the finish to join in the team’s Champagne-soaked celebration.
Barker’s crew must now deal with the weight of being the team that let a seven-race lead get away from it in a country where the America’s Cup is like the Olympics and the Super Bowl all rolled in to one.
Ordinarily stoic throughout the event, he was seen in tears aboard his boat after the loss, and later spoke to the turning of the tables over the course of the series.
“It’s really very frustrating,” he said. “You think back two weeks, the opposite was true. The gains that they’ve made are phenomenal. It’s a big cre dit to those guys they’ve’ really done an amazing job to sort their boat out.”
Ellison said San Francisco is a frontrunner for the 35th America’s Cup, a decision that lies in the hands of the winning team, and said he would begin talks with city officials regarding that possibility.