Eleven days ago, Oracle Team USA was losing to Emirates Team New Zealand by a score of 6-0. At that point, Oracle Team skipper Jimmy Spithill stated that New Zealand had “almost got it in the bag.” Spithill still had faith in his team, though: “Imagine if these guys lost from here, what an upset that would be. That would be one hell of a story, one hell of a comeback, and that’s what I’d like to be a part of.”
Spithill is slowly seeing his wishes come true. Since being down 6-0, Oracle Team has won 6 of the last 8 races, with 5 wins in a row. Oracle Team now trails Emirates Team by a score of 8-6, with 9 victories needed to capture the Auld Mug. Two races are scheduled for Tuesday, and if Oracle Team can continue this momentum and win both, the match will be square.
So how has Oracle Team changed their luck? It all started when Spithill, the skipper for the team, switched the boat's tactician from San Francisco native John Kostecki to four-time British gold medalist Ben Ainslie. Ainslie, along with strategist Tom Slingsby (gold medalist last year from Australia), made the changes necessary for Oracle Team to start their amazing comeback.
"They found their boat speed. They're making fewer mistakes, and they're winning the mental battle," stated America's Cup expert Jack Griffin. Oracle Team has found speed through the many changes they have made to their catamaran every night. Thus far, Oracle Team has made 15 changes, compared to 8 by Emirates Team. One of the most important changes Oracle Team made (besides replacing its tactician) was to remove their bow sprit - a pole at the front of the boat which holds a light sail. By doing this, the team hoped to decrease the weight of the boat and decrease drag. The move proved successful - Oracle Team USA is now sailing away from the Kiwis on the upwind leg of the race, the one leg that has been plaguing their efforts all competition.
The momentum has been erased from Emirates Team's sails: "Well it looked as though Team New Zealand had a sedative in their cornflakes at the start. They were just outwitted, outmanoeuvred. The acceleration from Oracle was there when they needed it," stated yachting commentator Peter Montgomery. Despite the pessimistic outlook from the media and some fans, New Zealand skipper Dean Barker says that his team is not giving up: "It has been a rough road the last few days, but there is not one person on the team thinking of throwing in the towel."
Oracle Team may be down 8-6, but they have won the same amount of races as the Kiwis. Before the competition started, Oracle Team was assessed a 2-race penalty due to cheating allegations from a prior competition. While the race should officially be tied, Spithill is not going to make any excuses: ''We're sailors. We're athletes. We're not about the politics and all of that sort of stuff. Life's not fair sometimes. ... We can win this Cup. They can take as many races as they want. But for us, we know we can win this Cup if we win the next few races. So we can control our own destiny there."
Spithill may not be a man of politics, but team owner Larry Ellison may be. If Oracle Team wins on Tuesday, Ellison may pursue a legal battle to have the penalty overturned and award the Cup victory to Oracle Team.
Regardless the outcome, the longest America's Cup in the 162 year race history has also been arguably the most dramatic and exciting.
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