SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Oracle Team USA prevailed in a dramatic winner-take-all showdown with Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday to win the 34th America's Cup, completing a stirring comeback that helped make the once-troubled event among the most exciting in sailing history.
For Oracle and its hard-charging skipper, Jimmy Spithill, the win was an extraordinary sporting triumph, one that saw the team climb back from a seemingly insurmountable 8-1 deficit in the best-of-17 series to keep the trophy it won three years ago.
The thrilling final races were also a ringing vindication of Oracle owner Larry Ellison's controversial decision to transform a once-staid yachting event into a TV-friendly, extreme-sports spectacle featuring huge catamarans flying across the natural amphitheatre of San Francisco Bay.
"A lot of people who were never interested in sailing are now interested in sailing," Ellison said at a post-race news conference. "This regatta has changed sailing forever."
Emirates Team New Zealand, a plucky challenger that lacked a billionaire sponsor but nonetheless sailed to the brink of Cup victory, must now endure the ignominy of having let the prize slip from its grasp in the final days after a grueling two-year campaign of boat development and training.
Oracle dominated the last race, showcasing the dramatic improvements in boat speed on the upwind leg of the race that began to emerge a week ago. Oracle seemed to find an extra gear after losing most of the early races, and even overcame a pre-match penalty that required it win 11 races on the water.
The speed improvements appeared to come mainly from changes that enabled the boat to consistently "foil," or lift almost completely out of the water on small horizontal wings, even when heading upwind. The team also changed tacticians after its early losses, installing Britain's Ben Ainslie - the winningest Olympic sailor in history - in that spot in place of San Francisco native John Kostecki.
The winning Oracle team had only one American on board.