America’s Cup qualifiers off to smashing start in Bermuda

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The America’s Cup qualifiers got off to a smashing start Saturday on Bermuda’s Great Sound.

It was a good day for two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA and a bad one for Sir Ben Ainslie of Britain.

Moments after Oracle Team USA came from behind to beat Emirates Team New Zealand in a thrilling rematch between the 2013 finalists, Ainslie, the skipper of Land Rover BAR, crashed his 50-foot foiling catamaran into SoftBank Team Japan during the prestart of the day’s sixth and final race.

Crewmen on SoftBank Team Japan had to leap clear of Ainslie’s port hull as it crashed onto their starboard hull. The collision opened a hole in the bottom of the British boat’s carbon fiber hull and caused part of it to delaminate.

Ainslie was penalized and SoftBank Team Japan, skippered by former Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, sailed off to a 48-second win.

The British shore crew has less than 24 hours to repair the boat before Sunday’s races, when Land Rover BAR faces Oracle and Team New Zealand.

Oracle went 2-0 while Land Rover BAR, Team New Zealand, Artemis Racing of Sweden and SoftBank Team Japan all went 1-1. Groupama Team France was routed in its two races.

It was the third collision this spring for Ainslie, who sailed with Oracle in 2013 and is the most decorated sailor in Olympic history. He hit the dock while returning from a practice session on March 22 and then ran into the back of Emirates Team New Zealand during a practice race on May 16, causing significant damage that took the Kiwis three days to repair.

The qualifiers started the same way the 2013 America’s Cup ended, with Oracle rallying to beat Team New Zealand. Four years ago, Team New Zealand reached match point against Oracle on San Francisco Bay before the American team, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, won eight straight races to cap one of the greatest comebacks in sports.

On Saturday, there were two lead changes. Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill caught the Kiwis, now helmed by Olympic gold and silver medalist Peter Burling, as the catamarans rounded the mark onto the sixth of seven legs and pulled away to win by six seconds.

“It’s good to get back out there against them,” said Spithill, an Australian. “Both boats are very competitive and it really came down to the sailing side. There were a couple of tactical, match-race situations that decided that race. That’s a good sign.”

This is the first time the defender has sailed against challengers in the preliminaries. Oracle and the five challengers will compete in two round robins, which will eliminate one challenger. Oracle will then train on its own while the challengers sail their semifinals and finals. The winner will meet Oracle in the first-to-seven America’s Cup match starting June 17.

Oracle pulled into a 3-3 tie atop the standings with Land Rover BAR, which opened with two bonus points based on preliminary regattas. Oracle came in with one bonus point.

If the winner of the qualifiers is Oracle or a challenger that advances to the match, that team will start the match with a one-point bonus.

Oracle opened Saturday’s racing with a 2:11 rout of Groupama Team France.

The British looked strong in beating Artemis Racing by 11 seconds. Artemis, which looked good in practice races in recent weeks, beat SoftBank Team Japan by 13 seconds. Emirates Team New Zealand routed France by 2:33.

The Kiwis officially debuted their cycling grinding system. Rather than having grinders turn winches with traditional arm power, they installed four stationary bikes on each hull to have the grinders ride.

Oracle also installed a cycling grinding station behind the wheel that tactician Tom Slingsby occasionally rode.

The opening of the regatta was delayed a day due to strong winds, leading to a crowded weekend schedule. Instead of four races each day Saturday and Sunday, there will be six each day.

Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

Team New Zealand routs Oracle Team USA to win America’s Cup

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) Helmsman Peter Burling and Emirates Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup on Monday with a resounding romp against software tycoon Larry Ellison’s two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA.

The underfunded but resourceful Kiwis claimed the oldest trophy in international sports with another dominating light-air sprint around the Great Sound aboard their fast, 50-foot foiling catamaran. They won Race 9 to clinch the 35th America’s Cup match at 7-1.

As soon as the red-and-black cat crossed the finish line, the normally reserved crew of six began whooping and jumped up onto the trampoline netting and into a joyful group hug.

“We’re on top of the world,” said Burling, who at 26 becomes the youngest helmsman to win sailing’s greatest prize in a competition that dates to 1851.

Magnums of champagne arrived and Burling and crewman Blair Tuke, who won Olympic gold and silver medals together, sprayed the crew.

There were five Kiwis on the crew plus Australian Glenn Ashby, a multihull wiz who serves as skipper and controls the wingsail.

There were no Americans on Oracle Team USA’s crew, which included five Australians and one from Antigua.

Team New Zealand started with a negative point because Oracle won the qualifiers, forcing the Kiwis to win eight races to return the Auld Mug to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland for the first time since 2003.

The Kiwis atoned for their mind-numbing collapse in 2013, when they blew an 8-1 lead as Oracle won eight straight races in one of the greatest comebacks in sports.

Race 9 was another blowout for Team New Zealand, which represents a small, sailing-mad island nation.

Skipper Jimmy Spithill put Oracle in the lead rounding the first mark, but the fast Kiwi cat overhauled the American-flagged boat and sailed into the lead on the downwind second leg.

The Kiwis’ fast boat was powered by a revolutionary grinding system in which they replaced traditional arm power with leg power. They installed four stationary bikes in each hull, with the “cyclors” powering the hydraulic systems used to trim the wingsail and control the daggerboards that are tipped with hydrofoils.

Among the crew was Simon van Velthooven, who won a bronze medal in track cycling at the London Olympics.

In 2010, Spithill became the youngest skipper to win the America’s Cup, at 30. That was the first of two Cup victories for Ellison, one of the world’s richest men.

2017 America’s Cup: How to Watch

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The 2017 America’s Cup continues on NBC Sports this weekend as Emirates Team New Zealand look to build on their commanding 3-0 lead over Oracle Team USA on the third day of racing from Bermuda.

Four years after a thrilling American comeback kept sailing’s greatest prize in the United States, Emirates Team New Zealand has returned to challenge for the Cup. And just like their 2013 meeting in San Francisco, it will take an impressive rally from Oracle Team USA to retain their title as America’s Cup Defender.

WATCH: 2017 America’s Cup (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, Monday at 1 p.m. ET)

The first team to win seven races from the Great Sound in Bermuda will lift the trophy, and the Kiwis are on their way to doing just that after four straight wins to begin to the competition (New Zealand started off down a race after the USA’s win in the America’s Cup Qualifiers). Victory in four of the six races this weekend would be enough to send the Cup to New Zealand for the first time since 2003.

The challengers looked dominate in the first weekend of racing, but there is reason for American optimism after a five-day layoff and a chance to utilize the deep pockets of yacht owner Larry Ellison. Not to mention, Oracle Team USA has been before after falling behind 8-1 in the 2013 America’s Cup and reeling off eight straight wins to retain the trophy.

 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Who: Oracle Team USA vs. Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2017 America’s Cup

When: 1 p.m. ET

Where: NBCSN and the NBC Sports App

 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Who: Oracle Team USA vs. Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2017 America’s Cup

When: 1 p.m. ET

Where: NBCSN and the NBC Sports App

 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Who: Oracle Team USA vs. Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2017 America’s Cup

When: 1 p.m. ET

Where: NBCSN and the NBC Sports App