Just a few days ago, the America’s Cup challenger Emirates Team New Zealand was looking at winning just one more race to capture the coveted “Auld Mug” trophy.
They’re now looking to just save face.
America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA, down eight races to one, has stormed back to tie the New Zealand entry, including two crucial wins on Tuesday.
The 2013 America’s Cup essentially now comes down to a one-race playoff, held on Wednesday afternoon in San Francisco Bay.
In snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, Oracle Team USA will need the elite crew to once again take control of the catamaran and continue sailing at the break-neck 50 MPH speeds already seen thus far in the event.
After being embarrassed in the early races, team owner Larry Ellison called for a complete re-jigging, replacing tactician and local sailor John Kostecki with Ben Ainslie, a four-time gold medalist.
It’s clear the strategy has paid off. The overall operation of the catamaran appears to be more efficient with Ainslie at the helm, and his vast experience and pass successes certainly haven't hurt, either.
Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill has seen the positive changes from his vantage point as well.
"The boat is just getting faster and faster," said Spithill. "The boys are really starting to believe now. There's a lot of good energy on board."
Ellison, who owned the team that won the America’s Cup in 2010, could have looked like a real fool if his boat went down to defeat in an embarrassing fashion. As the defending champion. Ellison got to choose the location of the race and the overall design of the boats. Ellison, who made his fortune by founding computer technology giant Oracle, is a Silicon Valley resident who knows the San Francisco Bay Area well.
But now, if even in defeat, Ellison and his team will have given a valiant effort in the 2013 America’s Cup.
At 19 days the races have already been the longest America’s Cup on record since 1851. And today’s finale all depends on wind conditions as well.
The newer, lighter catamarans are in stark contrast to the mono-hull boats featured in past America’s Cup races. And safety became a key issue after Oracle capsized in training maneuvers in San Francisco Bay last May.
In addition, British sailor Andrew Simpson was killed when the Swedish AC72 catamaran also capsized during training sessions.
New safety procedures were put in place, but wind speed limits were also instituted as well. And that key rule change has led to the now-19 day America’s Cup event.
Still, the way in which Oracle Team USA has stormed back has captivated the sailing profession, and if the comeback is completed on Wednesday, it will bring luster back to an America’s Cup event that has dulled over time.
The America’s Cup has played to huge television crowds in New Zealand, where the popularity of the sport is still keen. The races have been watched in 1.1 million homes on an island of four million Kiwis.
Improved upwind speed has been the key for Orcacle Team USA after the changes were made. On Tuesday in the second race, they stormed back from a deficit of five seconds at the first mark to win by 54 seconds, evening the America’s Cup at eight wins apiece.
They’ll again need that big push upwind on Wednesday.
For Oracle Team USA skipper Spithill, there’s nowhere on Earth he’d rather be.
"It's the most exciting day of all of our lives and we wouldn't want to be anywhere else,” he said.
It’s the closest America’s Cup since 1983, and Spithill will be looking to finish it off in grand style.