Oracle Team USA’s stunning America’s Cup upset — eight straight wins culminating in a 1-point victory over Emirates Team New Zealand Wednesday on San Francisco Bay — didn’t just happen.
“You know what 8-to-1 is?” Oracle Team owner Larry Ellison asked in a post-race press conference, trying to digest one of the great comebacks in sports history. “8-to-1 is motivated.”
The crew came together. It got better — and kept getting better. “We came from behind. The guys showed so much heart,” said Jimmy Spithill, Oracle Team’s 34-year-old skipper. “On your own you’re nothing, but a team like this can make you look great. … We were facing the barrel of a gun at 8-1, and the guys didn’t even flinch.”
The boat came together. It got faster — and kept getting faster. Down 4-1 in points on Day 3 and clearly the slower boat upwind, Oracle called for officials to postpone the day’s racing, which each team could do once during the regatta.
Click play to watch the highlights of the win and celebration.
The team huddled and undertook a series of modifications to its AC72 catamaran to squeeze out more upwind speed. It also changed tacticians. Four-time British Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie replaced American John Kostecki.
Oracle went on to lose races six and seven, but as the regatta unfolded, commentators noted improvements in Oracle’s boat speed and maneuvers, much improved crew work and fewer mistakes. By Day 9, with Emirates leading 8-1 in points, the Oracle boat and team finally were dialed in. “We finally broke the code,” Ellison said.
“The major changes, in my view, were the balance of the boat, where obviously the load sharing between the foils is critical, so we adjusted that quite a lot,” Russell Coutts, Oracle Team USA’s chief executive, told the New York Times. “We changed that loading by manipulating the wing shapes and flaps. So we didn’t actually change anything in a physical sense. We just changed the setting so we more bottom-loaded the wing and more off-loaded that, and that created a different loading for the foils.”
Oracle won the next eight races, securing the final by 44 seconds. During the past week the U.S. syndicate steadily improved its boat speed to the point at which it could hydrofoil upwind at 30 to 32 knots, an incredible performance.
The defender was racing at 41 knots downwind and 30 knots upwind in 20 knots of breeze in the last race, extending its lead from the first gate to more than 700 meters at one point.
“It’s always the faster boat that’s going to win,” one Cup commentator said. “Over the last eight races that’s been Oracle Team USA.”
“The Oracle boys just found another couple of gears through the regatta. Hats off to them. They did a fantastic job,” New Zealand tactician Ray Davies said.
This is the second America’s Cup win for Oracle Team USA and for Spithill, who won the now 162-year-old trophy in Valencia, Spain, in February 2010. Then 30, Spithill became the youngest to skipper a Cup-winning team.
“It was a fantastic race,” he said. “Thanks to San Francisco — this is one hell of a day.”
Oracle’s victory marks one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of sport. The team had to win 11 races to score the nine points required for victory because of a 2-point penalty that an international jury assessed Oracle for illegally altering one of its 45-foot catamarans in pre-Cup events.
Wednesday marked the third time in the history of the America’s Cup that there was a winner-take-all final race. The defender won in 1920 and the challenger in 1983. Both times the winner rallied from a multi-race deficit, but never anything like the 7-point gap Oracle faced.
“This was a wonderful match of teams,” said regatta director Iain Murray, who has been involved with the Cup since 1983. “Then it was the challenger behind, and this time it was the defender. But in the end we had great competition between two great teams, evenly matched, battling it out to the end.”
One million fans have visited the official America’s Cup venues at San Francisco’s Piers 27/29 and Marina Green since they opened on the Fourth of July, and hundreds of thousands more lined the shores of San Francisco Bay to catch a glimpse of the foiling AC72s.
Oracle Team USA: 9 points (11 wins)
Emirates Team New Zealand: 8 points
RACE 19 DATA
Course: five legs, 10.07 nautical miles
Elapsed time: OTUSA - 23:24, ETNZ - 24:08
Delta: OTUSA - 44 seconds
Total distance sailed: OTUSA - 11.9 nm, ETNZ - 12.2 nm
Average speed: OTUSA - 30.55 knots, ETNZ - 30.55 knots
Top speed: OTUSA - 44.33 knots, ETNZ - 45.72 knots
Wind speed: average - 18.2 knots, peak - 21.3 knots
Number of tacks/jibes: OTUSA - 9/7, ETNZ - 9/7