Oracle Team USA won the final race of the America’s Cup sailing championship on San Francisco Bay Sept. 25, successfully defending its title in an epic scenario that not even a Hollywood screenwriter would dare to dream up.
A week ago the Oracle Team was down 8 to 1 against the challenger Emirates Team New Zealand, which just had to win one more race to claim the America’s Cup in the best-of-17 race series. All observers, casual as well as expert sailors, said it was virtually impossible for Oracle to win the next eight races to retain the cup that the USA team won in the fall of 2010. But that is exactly what it did.
The Oracle team actually had to win 11 races to retain the cup because it was forced to forfeit the first two races when an international jury overseeing the competition ruled that the Oracle team had cheated when it had illegally added weights to the bow of its AC72 wing-sail catamaran to improve its performance during warm up regattas.
While Oracle Team USA started the competition at -2 to 0, the New Zealand team had to win the regulation nine races to bring home the cup.
So in the end Oracle Team USA not only won the last eight races it won 10 of the last 12 races to keep the storied sterling silver America’s Cup, known among yachting enthusiasts as the "auld mug," out of the hands of Emirates Team New Zealand. The America’s Cup has the distinction of being the oldest trophy in international sports since the competition started in 1851 as a series of races between U.S. and British yachts.
The U.S boat America won that first competition and the New York Yacht Club retained the cup for 132 years until 1983 when the Australia II won the cup for the Royal Perth Yacht Club. Since then, the cup has traded hands among teams from Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Switzerland before returning to the United States in 2010.
The victory means that San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club will retain the cup for at least the next three years when the next competition is due to start.
The victory had to be particularly sweet for Oracle Team USA’s principal backer, Larry Ellison, because it comes in the midst of his company’s huge annual customer convention, Oracle OpenWorld, in downtown San Francisco.
It looked like Emirates Team New Zealand would walk off with the cup by the weekend of Sept. 21, before Oracle OpenWorld convened. Instead, the races proved to be a premier entertainment for those OpenWorld attendees who chose to take a break from the steady stream of presentations on Oracle databases, hardware and applications to head toward the city’s waterfront to catch the races.
Although the races were delayed by an unusual early season rain storm on Sept. 21, spectators were able to watch the final week of racing in the Bay area’s renowned crystal-clear and mild early fall weather. The America’s Cup finals lasted 18 days, which is the longest period of time that the finals have ever run.
As it turned out, no corporate CEO could ask for a better marketing vehicle.
Now Oracle OpenWorld attendees and the people of San Francisco can never claim that Larry Ellison doesn’t know how to put on a good show. That in itself is a remarkable turnaround from the early stages of the competition, when many commentators claimed the races failed to deliver the huge entertainment and economic benefits Ellison and his racing organization had promised.
Ellison had convinced the city government to spend millions of dollars to get the city waterfront ready to host the competition and to provide facilities for the various international teams expected to challenge Oracle. In the end, fewer teams than expected took part in the competition.
The low point came in mid-September when Oracle Team USA was behind by seven wins and it looked like it would give up the cup to Emirates Team New Zealand with barely a whimper. Now Oracle Team USA’s victory is being described as perhaps the greatest comeback in modern sports history.
It’s certainly being compared to Major League Baseball’s Boston Rex Sox's comeback in the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Red Sox lost the first three games of that series to the archrival New York Yankees before it claimed the American League Championship by winning the last four games.
The Red Sox went on to defeat the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games to win its first World Series since 1918.