After the controversy, the tragedy, the firing of a tactician and an epic comeback, the America’s Cup has come down to this: one final race today on San Francisco Bay.
Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand will face off for a 17th, winner-take-all race this afternoon, if the winds comply. In one of the unlikeliest of recent comebacks, Oracle has reeled off seven straight wins to tie the series at 8-8. The team, financed by Larry Ellison, had begun the final series down 0-2 because of a two-race penalty for illegal boat modifications in a preliminary regatta and a first-string wing trimmer was suspended.
In addition to the penalties, getting to this point was difficult for other reasons. Oracle capsized during a training maneuver a year ago and seriously damaged one of its boats. Last spring, British sailor Andrew Simpson died after the Swedish challenger’s boat capsized during training.
Two weeks ago, though, things began to change. With Team USA trailing badly, Oracle made a move, replacing skipper John Kostecki with Ben Ainslie, a British tactician knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for winning five Olympic medals. He helped the boat gain upwind speed with better tacking and teamwork — and the wins began to pile up.
“The exciting thing for me is seeing how this team has gelled together,” skipper Jimmy Spithill after Oracle forced the final race by winning twice Tuesday. “Sometimes you need to face that barrel of the gun to come together. You can get wobbly in the knees or you can look into the barrel. Every day we’ve managed to step it up more.”
And if Team USA manages to pull this off? “Oracle’s comeback had Americans like the former America’s Cup helmsman Ken Read, who is now a television analyst, drawing analogies to that 2004 Red Sox team,” Christopher Clarey of the New York Times writes. “Britons like Ainslie, Oracle’s tactician and a four-time Olympic gold medalist, might be drawn to memories of the Liverpool Football Club, which rallied from 3-0 at halftime to defeat A.C. Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.”
The race, which begins at 4:15 p.m. EDT, will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network, as well as online.