SAN FRANCISCO — This has become the America’s Cup that just won’t end, thanks to fickle wind and Oracle Team USA’s remarkable resurgence.
Twice down by seven races, the defending champions from the United States no doubt have all of New Zealand on edge, including the thousands of Kiwis who pack the waterfront to cheer on the boys aboard Emirates Team New Zealand.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill and his mates with Oracle Team USA were masterful in tricky conditions Sunday on San Francisco Bay, winning Races 14 and 15 to cut the Kiwis’ lead to 8-5.
Oracle won Race 14 by 23 seconds and Race 15 by 37 seconds in light, patchy wind. Spithill steered his 72-foot catamaran to huge leads in both races before the Kiwis cut the margin on the fourth leg. It was a day for back slaps and fist pumps aboard Oracle Team USA, which has won four straight since the Kiwis reached match point Wednesday.
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Backed by software tycoon Larry Ellison’s fortune, Oracle needs four more wins to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.
Oracle has won seven races. But it was docked two points as part of the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas called the America’s Cup World Series.
Spithill hasn’t wavered since Oracle was penalized four days before the racing started, including having wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder tossed from the regatta.
“The boat is just so much quicker than when we started this competition,” said Spithill, 34, an Australian who lives in San Diego with his American wife and their two young boys. “We believe we can win this. We believe we’ve got the boat to do it, we’ve got the team, and we’ve got a wave of momentum that’s becoming bigger every day, behind us.”
The Kiwis, backed in part by their government and several corporate sponsors, still need just one win to spirit away the Auld Mug.
It’s gotten to the point that skipper Dean Barker was asked by a countryman if he can assure New Zealanders that they’re not watching Team New Zealand choke.
“Tough question,” said Barker, the hard-luck loser in the 2003 America’s Cup, who answered in his usual calm demeanor.
“We have absolute belief that we can win this and nothing’s changed,” he said. “The numbers are still definitely in our favor.”
Race 16, and Race 17 if necessary, are scheduled for Monday.