AC34- Spithill and Oracle Team USA pull off the impossible!
by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 26 Sep 2013
You simply can’t script a better sports story: The protagonist (in this hemisphere at least) wrecks his boat less than a year ago, rebuilds both vessel and team only to find themselves in a DEEP scoreboard deficient (eight to one in a best-of-nine series, to be exact), only to rally with an unprecedented eight-bullet winning streak to successfully defend the oldest trophy in international sports. Yeah, right!
25/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America’s Cup - Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand, Race Day 15 ACEA - Photo Gilles Martin-Raget © http://photo.americascup.com/
But that’s precisely what happened on San Francisco Bay yesterday as skipper Jimmy Spithill and his crewmates aboard Oracle Team USA scripted sailing’s ultimate comeback play.
But before we get all punch drunk with star-spangled joy, let’s not forget the deep and self-created hole that the team faced. Day after losing day, Spithill faced the media, armed with only the gospel of believing in his team.
Those were not easy days, but the Aussie skipper and helmsman proved that he thrives under pressure. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an afterguard that’s practically weighted-down with Olympic Gold medals, but there’s no escaping the fact that Spithill’s leadership skills are world-class.
Then, something changed. Oracle got FAST, The Kiwis lost their upwind advantage, and the Defender started taking races. The mountain was a steep one, but the team simply worked hard and refused to give up, steadily chipping away at Emirates Team New Zealand’s meaty lead.
Slowly, over the past week, Spithill has drawn in the attention and support of the entire city of San Francisco and many American sports fans, decisively (almost deliberately) crafting a storybook plot.
Not surprisingly, American fans went nuts when the TV broadcasters superimposed an American flag on the waters in front of the finishing line, and it was a proud moment when a national-flagged vessel successfully defended the Cup under what can only be described as high-stakes circumstances.
So what made the come-from-behind difference? There’s no question that the boat and the team got noticeably faster, but according to Spithill it was a combination of factors, rather than a silver-bullet solution. While we’ll likely never get the complete story, the bottom line is that Oracle’s sailors, their design/engineering team, their shore team, and everyone else wearing team colors made the entire country proud today.
Many questions remain about the future of AC35 and many of the associated players and teams, but these will be sorted-out in time.
For now, let’s all take a moment to celebrate what can only be described as a near-fantasy comeback and one of the most riveting America’s Cups of all time.
As another San Francisco legend used to sing, 'What a long, strange trip it’s been.'
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