SAN FRANCISCO: Oracle Team USA completed one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) to clinch the America’s Cup with victory over Team New Zealand in a decisive duel for the 162-year-old trophy.
The defending champions crossed the finish 44 seconds ahead of challenger New Zealand to claim the coveted prize 9-8, having fought back from 8-1 down in the series.
“Man oh man, what a race,” said USA skipper Jimmy Spithill.
“Facing the barrel of the gun at 8-1 and what do these guys do? They didn’t even flinch.”
Cheers erupted from flag-waving fans on the shore of San Francisco Bay and the US team exchanged hugs as the catamaran zipped past the pier next to the finish.
Billionaire yachtsman Larry Ellison, owner of the US team, hopped on board from a chase boat and took part in popping the champagne.
“The engineering team, the guys on the water finally broke the code and figured out what to do,” Ellison said, giving much of the credit to Kiwi sailing legend and the team’s chief executive Russell Coutts.
“He talked about sailing lower and faster instead of higher and slower. Russell Coutts has never lost an America’s Cup, not a bad record. As long as Russell wants his job we are glad to have him.”
But the result was greeted with despair in New Zealand where a one-word tweet from Prime Minister John Key summed up the mood of a nation: “Bugger.”
The two rivals crossed the start of Race 19 almost even, and the Kiwis slipped around the first marker with a lead as the American’s flubbed the turn, dunking their bow.
New Zealand defended a narrow lead around the next marker and into the critical upwind third leg.
The Americans split the course and engaged in a tacking duel that ended with the defending champion seizing a lead that grew all the way to the finish.
The dramatic win culminated an epic rally by the Americans, who battled back from seven points down while the Kiwis were poised on match point.