Hard-luck loser Kiwis back for another shot at America’s Cup

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SAN DIEGO (AP) The champagne was on ice and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron was eager to welcome back the America’s Cup to its trophy room.

Emirates Team New Zealand was that close to victory on San Francisco Bay.

Corks never popped. The Auld Mug never made it back Down Under.

Four years after their soul-crushing loss to Oracle Team USA, the Kiwis are back for another shot at sailing’s Holy Grail. The Kiwis have already made waves by putting cycling stations on their 50-foot, foiling catamaran to help power it round Bermuda’s Great Sound.

Yes, there are still scars from their shocking loss in 2013. There’s also a new focus going into the opening races of Round Robin 1 of the qualifiers on Friday, when the Kiwis will face Groupama Team France.

Emirates Team New Zealand is considered one of the favorites to win the Louis Vuitton trophy and face two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 35th America’s Cup match starting June 17.

Glenn Ashby, an Australian who has replaced Dean Barker as skipper, thinks the Kiwis have a stronger team and are mentally tougher than in 2013. There are talented new sailors mixed among veterans eager to atone for the gut-wrenching 2013 defeat.

“We’re in a good space and everybody definitely remembers that,” said Ashby, who trims the giant wing mainsail. “It gives you a bit of fuel for the fire to get out there and absolutely put the best foot forward. And hopefully Lady Luck will be on our side this time around.”

It seems she owes the Kiwis.

Team New Zealand reached match point in 2013 against Oracle, which had been penalized two points in the standings for the biggest cheating scandal in America’s Cup history. The Kiwis were well ahead in what would have been the clinching race. But due to fickle winds, the time limit expired and the race was abandoned.

Oracle stunned the Kiwis by winning the next eight races to retain the silver trophy. It was one of the greatest comebacks – and collapses – in sports.

A lesser team might have folded. The Kiwis didn’t. They sacked Barker, who’s now skipper of startup syndicate SoftBank Team Japan, and powered on against the establishment.

Team New Zealand joined Italy’s Luna Rossa in opposing an unprecedented midstream downsizing of the boats that was approved by the regatta organizers and other syndicates in 2015. The Italians were so incensed they dropped out after already investing millions of dollars in their boat design. The Kiwis stayed in, but their support for the Italians cost them a regatta in Auckland and with it, badly needed government funding.

There wasn’t much time for self-pity.

“You learn from every campaign, the good bits and the bad bits,” chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge said. “We took a lot of lessons out of the loss in San Francisco and implemented them early. That’s the sort of playbook we’re running this campaign by.”

Team New Zealand has added helmsman Peter Burling, 26, and his Olympic teammate Blair Tuke, 27. They won the gold medal in the 49er class at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after taking the silver in 2012.

And then there’s the “cyclor” grinding system. Rather than having their beefy grinders turn winches with their arms, ETNZ built four cycling stations into each hull to harness leg power to run the hydraulic systems used to trim the wing sail and operate the foils.

Among the sailing crew are Simon van Velthooven, an Olympic cycling bronze medalist, and Joe Sullivan, an Olympic rowing gold medalist.

ETNZ’s website lists several crew members as “cyclist.” They’ll rotate through the six-man crew, particularly on two- and three-race days.

Ashby, himself an Olympic silver medalist, said the cyclor system is just “a small part of a hugely complex program.” But it sure has the rest of the America’s Cup crowd talking and wondering how it will work.

Team New Zealand first hoisted the America’s Cup in victory after stunning Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995. It successfully defended it in 2000 before losing it in 2003. It reached the match in 2007 and 2013, losing both times.

It certainly has the support of its tiny, sailing-mad island nation of 4.6 million people.

“We’re trying to right the wrongs of our last campaign and we think we can,” Ashby said. “We absolutely have a fantastic chance at this. If Lady Luck plays a role, we’ll have a higher chance.”

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