Oracle Team USA has successfully defended the America's Cup, leaving challenger New Zealand in its wake off San Francisco after clawing back from a seven-race deficit in one of the most spectacular comebacks in yachting history.
A week ago, it looked to be all over for the U.S., with the Kiwis having built a seemingly unassailable lead and poised at one race away from taking the Auld Mug back to New Zealand.
But Oracle Team USA, skippered by James Spithill, with Ben Ainslie in the tactician's seat, took the wind out of the Kiwi's momentum, finding the speed in their giant 72-foot foiling catamaran and outmaneuvering Emirates Team New Zealand on the course.
"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."
San Francisco Chronicle sports editor Al Saracevic tweeted:
Oracle started the final series two points in the hole after a penalty stemming from a cheating scandal in an earlier series, involving smaller, 45-foot catamarans. An examination of Oracle's boats found that lead pellets had been hidden inside of forward support posts, apparently to aid in keeping the finicky multihulls upright in stronger wind.
Speaking on Tuesday, after winning two races to tie up the series, Spithill said the exciting thing for him was "seeing how this team has gelled together."
"Sometimes you need to face that barrel of the gun to come together," he said. "You can get wobbly in the knees or you can look into the barrel. Every day we've managed to step it up more."
Although nationalism still plays a key role in the competition, the teams are international in character: Oracle's skipper is an Australian and the tactician is from the U.K. The team is sponsored by software billionaire Larry Ellison's company. Emirates Team New Zealand is backed by the Dubai-based airline.
The America's Cup is the oldest and most prestigious trophy in yachting and stems from an 1851 contest between the schooner America and an English rival around the Isle of Wight. America won the race and the United States successfully defended the Cup for the next 132 years until Australia took it in 1983. Since then it has changed hands several times.
[A previous version of this story incorrectly said the two-point penalty imposed on Oracle was associated with the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series.]