America's Cup: Ainslie-led US crew nears historic win
British sailor guides Oracle team to seven straight wins over shell-shocked New Zealand
BRITISH sailor Sir Ben Ainslie is on the verge of inspiring one of the greatest-ever sporting comebacks by taking Team Oracle USA to the brink of what would be an extraordinary triumph in the America's Cup.
His team are now one win away from claiming the prestigious yachting prize, despite being docked two points earlier in the competition and falling 8-1 behind their rivals, Emirates Team New Zealand.
But after seven straight wins for Oracle, and with the score now at 8-8, the winner of the final race in San Francisco Bay this afternoon will be crowned champion.
"Either Oracle will finish one of the greatest comebacks in sports history or Team New Zealand, marooned on match point for the past week, will get the elusive win they need to claim the Auld Mug for the second time in 18 years," explains The Guardian.
Ainslie, who has won four Olympic gold medals, replaced American John Kostecki as tactician in the Oracle boat with the US boat 4-1 down. Since then Oracle has won nine out of 13 races, including the last seven in a row, to draw level with the Kiwis. Had it not been for a two-point penalty imposed early in the regatta, Oracle would already have been crowned champions.
The regatta has captured the imagination of New Zealanders, reports The Times, with the races attracting bigger TV audiences than All Blacks rugby matches.
But "the mood had changed from celebration to horror, with the dreaded 'choke' word being mentioned", says The Times. "Should they not reverse the tide ... the fallout could be brutal and even the team, which twice won the America's Cup, could fold."
To make matters worse for smarting Kiwis, it seems that the American public and the wider sporting world has shown little interest in the races.
"While most of New Zealand has been captivated by the event over the last few weeks – partly thanks to the novelty of free-to-air television coverage – the regatta hasn't made a mark on the sporting landscape in America," laments the New Zealand Herald.
"It is surprising stuff, considering the USA loves sporting comeback stories and Hollywood has built a whole genre around them." ·