Oracle Team USA prevailed in a dramatic winner-take-all showdown with Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday to win the 34th America’s Cup, completing a stirring comeback that helped make the once-troubled event among the most exciting in sailing history.
For Oracle and its hard-charging skipper, Australian Jimmy Spithill, the win was an extraordinary sporting triumph, one that saw the team climb back from a seemingly insurmountable 8-1 deficit in the best-of-17 series to keep the trophy it won three years ago.
The thrilling final races were also a ringing vindication of Oracle owner Larry Ellison’s controversial decision to transform a once-staid yachting event into a TV-friendly, extreme-sports spectacle featuring huge high-speed catamarans that might draw a new generation of enthusiasts to sailing.
Emirates Team New Zealand, a plucky challenger that lacked a billionaire sponsor but nonetheless sailed to the brink of Cup victory, must now endure the ignominy of having let the prize slip from its grasp after a grueling two-year campaign of boat development and training that unfolded almost exactly as planned until the final days.
Oracle dominated the last race, showcasing the dramatic improvement in boat speed on the upwind leg of the race that began to emerge a week ago. Oracle seemed to find an extra gear after losing most of the early races, and even overcame a pre-match penalty that required it win 11 races on the water.
“On your own you’re nothing, but with a team like this around you, they can make you look great,” Spithill said after the race.
Just a week ago, New Zealand fans had all but begun celebrating what seemed like an inevitable sporting and economic windfall for the longtime international sailing power, which supported the team with about $30 million in government funds in the hopes of bringing the trophy – and attendant tourism and publicity – back home.
But on Wednesday it was Ellison who was celebrating, joining the crew on the boat for a champagne shower in the moments after the finish.