Oracle Team USA completed one of the greatest comebacks in sports history Wednesday, winning the 34th America's Cup in a thrilling neck-and-neck race on the San Francisco Bay.
Race 19 started with a clean, dead-even start, and an early error by Team USA, but neither team gave up and battled for the lead in the early stages of the race on another windy day on the Bay.
By leg 3 of 5, Team USA stretched its lead to 300 meters. In the end, the win over challenger Emirates Team New Zealand looked easy stretching 44-seconds.
The boat representing the Red, White, and Blue crossed the finish line to the cheers of several thousand racing fans who had gathered at America's Cup Village.
Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison jumped on board the boat within minutes of the win just in time for the champagne shower.
After the race Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said he wouldn't have had it any other way, adding, "This is one hell of a day."
"We came from behind, the guys showed so much heart. On your own you’re nothing, but a team like this can make you look great. We were facing the barrel of a gun at 8-1 and the guys didn’t even flinch,” Spithill said.
Wednesday was the final race of the first-to-nine series in a competition many are calling the best ever America's Cup. It was the third time in the history of the America’s Cup with a winner-take-all final race. In 1920 the defender won. In 1983 the cup went to the challenger. Both times the winner rallied from a multi-race deficit, but never anything amounting to eight straight wins.
Regatta Director Iain Murray, who’s been involved with the America’s Cup since 1983, said "In the end we had great competition between two great teams, evenly matched, battling it out to the end.”
While the chants of "USA, USA" could be heard along the Embarcadero, groans were more likely than chanting down in New Zealand.
— ORACLE TEAM USA (@OracleTeamUSA) September 25, 2013
The cup took a record 19 races with a final winner-take-all contest for the 162-year-old trophy.
The backdrop for the high drama was a five-leg course framed by the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and infamous Alcatraz Island.
The grand finale for the oldest trophy in international sports was set up Tuesday when Oracle came through a wild start with two collisions to win Race 17, and then sped past the Kiwis after they made a tactical error to give up the lead in Race 18 in strong wind.
All but defeated a week ago, Oracle Team USA tied the faltering Kiwis 8-8 on the scoreboard by winning its 10th race overall. Oracle was docked two points for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas and Dirk de Ridder, who trimmed the 131-foot wing sail, was disqualified.
If it hadn't been hit with the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America's Cup, Oracle Team USA's sailors would be hoisting the Auld Mug in victory and spraying each other with champagne.
Oracle has gotten faster as it's made changes to its black cat every night in its big boatshed on Pier 80 and has steadily learned to sail it better under the watchful eye of team CEO Russell Coutts, a four-time America's Cup winner.
But there's a bigger reason Oracle won it all. "Never giving up," Spithill said.