In Comeback, Oracle Team USA Wins America's Cup

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With a 44-second victory, Oracle Team USA faced down Emirates Team New Zealand at the finals Wednesday to hold onto the America's Cup. Wednesday's race capped off an America's Cup competition that included capsizing and shattered masts, and an Oracle Team USA that seemed sure to lose.


In San Francisco today, a dramatic winner-take-all finish to the America's Cup race. Oracle Team USA, the defending champion, completed a remarkable comeback to win the regatta, 9-8. The American team is led by Silicon Valley billionaire and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. They were on the verge of elimination to their opponent, Emirates Team New Zealand. Trailing 8-1, the Oracle team then won eight straight races, concluding this afternoon in the high winds of San Francisco Bay. Announcer Todd Harris had the call on the NBC Sports Network.


TODD HARRIS: The Stars and Stripes say it all. The comeback of 2013 is complete. America's Cup will stay in America.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, yeah, baby.

BLOCK: NPR's Richard Gonzales has been watching the series of races that began earlier this month. He joins us from near the finish line. And, Richard, tell us about this high-drama finish.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Well, Melissa, this race had all the drama of a drag race. There were several lead changes early on. But by mid-race, Oracle Team USA showed that it was firmly in charge and that they were going to accomplish what very few people thought they could do, that they were going to come back from near-certain defeat. You want to recall that just a week ago, New Zealand had only one more race to win to win it all. But Oracle fought back, and they went on a stunning string of victories by proving they have the faster boats, which is exactly what they did today.

BLOCK: And in the end, they won this race by 44 seconds. Let's talk about the boats. They're unlike anything that's been raced before, Richard, 72-foot catamarans, top speeds over 50 miles an hour.

GONZALES: That's right. These boats are called AC72s, which means they're 72 feet long. They're also 131 feet tall. That's 13 stories tall. So we're talking very big. And you can see these vessels from miles away on the San Francisco Bay, and that's the point. They are very TV friendly. They're also very fast, very fragile and, therefore, very dangerous.

We saw how dangerous they could be because a member of the Swedish team, an Australian by the name of Mark Simpson who died in an accident in May. These are double-hulled catamarans, and they'll reach a speed 45 to 50 miles per hour. They get that fast, they just pop up on small foils so they skim across the water. You know, they hydrofoil on a platform not much bigger than a large skateboard and it's like flying. The sailors say they're just learning how to sail these things.

BLOCK: Well, the America's Cup races are traditionally held out on the open sea where not too many people can actually witness the competition. This was very different. It took place right there in San Francisco Bay.

GONZALES: Well, I just mentioned TV, right? You know, the race was held near the shore along the northern edge of San Francisco between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. And the idea was to hold the competition in a venue with very dependable winds and a natural amphitheater where spectators could see the whole contest.

And on top of that, there are two places near the water where people can watch the races on giant TV screens outside or inside bars and restaurants that were built for this event. And all this was designed to create a TV audience. So sailing has always been known as a participant sport, but now this America's Cup is trying and it has created a spectator sport.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Richard Gonzales near the finish line of the America's Cup race in San Francisco. Richard, thanks so much.

GONZALES: Thank you.

BLOCK: And today, Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand.

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