Update: Here’s the video replay of the 19th and final race today.
They said it over and over: At the end of the day, it’s the faster boat that always wins. Oracle Team USA is that boat — it has just completed what has to be considered one of the greatest comebacks in all of sports history, winning its eighth straight race after facing elimination in each and every one. The final margin: more than 43 seconds. The New Zealand Herald headline: “America’s Cup Stays America’s Cup.” (Though, as many have pointed out, there’s just one actual American on Team USA’s crew.)
Here’s AP’s report on the race:
After almost dunking its chances when it buried its bows in a wave shortly after the start, Oracle showed its incredible speed when it reeled in the Kiwis while zigzagging toward the Golden Gate Bridge on the windward third leg.
As Oracle worked to keep its lead, tactician Ben Ainslie, a four-time Olympic gold medalist from Britain, implored his mates by saying, “This is it. This is it. Working your (rears) off.”
There were hugs and handshakes after Spithill steered the fast cat across the finish line off America’s Cup Park on Piers 27-29. Ellison hopped on board and the crew sprayed him with champagne.
TV NZ has video of the moment of victory.
Tweeted afterward by the Prime Minister of New Zealand (for real) …
Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill, who is about to become overexposed, no doubt, is already giving advice …
On your own you’re nothing but when you’ve got a team like this around you, they make you great
— James Spithill (@JSpithill) September 25, 2013
By the way, if your Cup hasn’t runneth over quite yet, check out this amazing New York Times video feature on the competition. Plus a little historical context from the paper:
The America’s Cup is the most famous yachting race, both for its long history and for the powerful personalities and tycoons it has attracted, from the British tea merchant and graceful loser Thomas Lipton to the brash media mogul Ted Turner to Ellison, who spent hundreds of millions of dollars chasing the Cup with a series of challenges and has spent hundreds of millions more staging it and defending it in San Francisco.
Yet despite its high profile, the America’s Cup has rarely been a close yachting race. Most of the matches between challenger and defender have been lopsided affairs short on close finishes and telegenic appeal. But this Cup match is now the closest in 30 years. In September 1983, Australia II and Liberty faced off in another winner-take-all race off Newport, R.I., and the Australians came from behind to end the 132-year American winning streak.
The Australians rallied from 3-1 down to win that series, 4-3, but no America’s Cup team and few teams in any major sporting event have charged back from a deficit as big as the one that Oracle was facing. It should be noted that no previous Cup match has been designed to go on this long. Most modern Cups have been best-of-seven or best-of-nine series, or shorter. Full article
Comments from distressed Kiwis on the New Zealand Herald site also make for interesting reading. Just a few:
If we had 1 billion dollars to spend on the cup we would have won as we have the better sailors. We did not choke, but we cannot beat cheaters and we cannot beat billionaires determined to win at any cost. Well there will be no more Americas cup and you can thank Ellisson,Coutts and the rest of the organisation for that. Wonder if Coutts and Spittle will be so happy then.
Does not matter anymore, you guys have made New Zealand proud. I was so very happy to see you guys sailing to the American’s Cup finish line. Once again thank you for bringing us this moment for life.
Shame Oracle. As a former bowman on racing yachts, I can’t believe that Oracle were allowed a computerised trimmer, designed by Boeing to race their yacht for them. Its equivalent to extra crew and can respond faster and more perfectly than a human can.
Lots of New Zealand fans are hitting this theme. From AP:
[Some Kiwis] complained that Ellison’s deep pockets made the difference. Ellison’s two boats were built exclusively with the billionaire’s money. Team New Zealand cobbled together its funding from many sources, including from the New Zealand government itself.
“All this shows is what money can buy,” said Glenn Faulkner, a native New Zealander who lives in Half Moon Bay. “But no worries, mate. We gave it a go and we’ll be back.”
Relatedly, here’s a story from All Things Considered, reported by our own Aarti Shahani, about the supercomputing power that now goes into winning the Cup. Maybe Team USA had the better technology, but apparently New Zealand also made use of heavy data:
The 2013 America’s Cup isn’t just about using human muscle to race faster than the wind. This year, the international sailing competition is about supercomputing.
Tech teams are working behind the scenes to crunch numbers and model things like how a half-degree change in wing angle could add 5 knots in speed.
The computer giant Dell, for example, is running the supercomputers for Emirates Team New Zealand’s boat. Bryan Jones, Dell’s vice president of marketing, says teams are testing virtual models and studying each others’ designs for advantages like never before …
A few tournaments ago, the Kiwis had about 30 sailors and 15 engineers. Now it’s the other way around. “We’ve had to kind of sit down with the sailing team and almost invent a new language,” Holroyd says.
Kimball Livingston is a sailing journalist and competitive sailor who writes for Blue Planet Times. He addressed the unprecedented high-tech aspect of this year’s competition, as well as just how much was at stake for Team New Zealand as a going concern, in an interview with KQED’s Mina Kim today.
Kim: How did Oracle turn things around?
Livingston: They went to work on the boat and their systems. They copied a lot the techniques the Kiwis were using against them, but most of all they found some speed upwind on that third leg of the course. These boats ought to be understood as prototypes. Three years ago they were invented from a blank sheet of paper. No one had ever worked with hard wings on sailoats at this scale before, no one had ever poured development money into hydrofoils before; they existed but they hadn’t been developed.
Kim: How much of this victory was due to sailing tactics and how much due to the design of the boat?
Livingston: I think it’s mostly in the design of the boat, probably in the shape of the foils they were using, or the way they were using their foils. It was spectacular today, yesterday too, to see that they were foiling upwind almost all the time.
You’re either going upwind, downwind, or across the wind. Upwind is when you have to do the tacks, or zigzags as I like to call them. That was a direction that nobody had every hydrofoiled a sailboat before until about three weeks ago. Holy moley.
Kim: How devastating is this loss for New Zealand?
Livingston: It is devastating. The loss in 2003 was a national embarrassment; the masts broke in one race, the boat started filling up with water in one race, and they were on TV bailing it out with a blue potty bucket. How bad could it get? This was supposed to exorcise the demons of 2003.
Kim: There have been suggestions that the team could lose funding over this. Was Team New Zealand fighting for its life?
Livingston: It definitely was and it seems unlikely to everybody I’ve talked to that the government of New Zealand would again seed them with $30 million. But I was talking to one of their shore-team people, and he was saying to me that because they made it so far and because the event turned out to be such a beautiful and exciting thing, maybe just maybe Team New Zealand will survive.
Update 3: At Gate 3, Oracle has a huge lead. Spithill looks like he’s on a summer cruise. Follow the race live on Twitter below or at one of the links on the right.
Update 2: Every single person in the KQED newsroom is now in front of the TV. I think it’s more crowded than when the Giants were in the World Series.
Update: From the America’s Cup site at 12:15 p.m.: “With one hour remaining to the race of the century, the wind on the racecourse is ranging from 10 to 18 knots from 255-270 degrees.”
The New Zealand Herald informs us that “not since 1983 has the America’s Cup come down to one final race.”
The Sydney Morning Herald headline: “Team NZ praying for miracle in San Francisco.”
Who would have thought the America’s Cup, much deridedin its earlier stages, would become the most compelling sports story in the world right now?
After winning two races yesterday, Oracle Team USA tied up the series and edged closer to completing one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. Team USA has now beaten Emirates Team New Zealand in seven straight races while facing elimination in each and every one of them.
The final race is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. today on San Francisco bay, and the winner will take home the Cup. At this point, an air of inevitability is hanging over the Bay, and it feels like nothing short of a cannonball across the Oracle bow is going to prevent it from successfully defending its title.
It’s tempting to make an analogy here to the 2004 Red Sox, another squad that was down to the equivalent of match point, when they faced off against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Sox were down 3-0, a deficit that no major league team had overcome in any playoff, ever. The team then reeled off four straight and went on to win the World Series for the first time since 1918.
It might be a stretch, though, to put Oracle in the role of plucky, beloved underdog. To much of the world, they’re the Yankees — the literal Yankees, owned by an American billionaire with an outsize and off-putting personality. They were also caught cheating. That transgression, committed in a previous series, cost the team a penalty of two races in the current regatta.
(Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill) insisted his team is still the underdog — “I’m going to keep running with it” — but that’s sheer nautical sophistry. Any Vegas oddsmaker who handed Oracle a ‘dog role wouldn’t last long on the Strip …
On Wednesday, it will have the hot crew, the faster boat on the critical upwind leg and a superior skipper in the starting box. On the face of it, the climactic race is shaping up as no contest.
“It’s not over,” Spithill cautioned. “That’s the key point here. We’ve got to finish it off. We’ve worked very, very hard to come back from where we were. The guys want it. You can sense it on board, and you can sense it around the base. The whole team wants it.”
(Team New Zealand skipper Dean) Barker doesn’t think it’s over, either, but he has been saying for a week that “we know we can win this thing.” At this point, you have to wonder whether his team really believes it.
So the Kiwis are underdogs, indeed, and even some Bay Area locals are rooting for them. On hand to watch the races yesterday, San Franciscan Marcus Ghiasi told KQED’s Sara Bloomberg that he’s pulling for New Zealand.
“I converted,” Ghiasi said .”I think a win for New Zealand would mean a lot more than for Oracle. At least for the fans. Winning the America’s Cup and bringing it home for them … would mean a lot more for the country as a community.”
Not everyone feels that way, of course. “We’re witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport!” Paul Kaba, of Forest Knolls in Marin County, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our team has completely mastered the waters of the bay. This is exciting!”
More to come soon…