HAMILTON, Bermuda, June 27, (AFP): New Zealand won the America’s Cup on Monday, laying to rest the ghost of a stunning 2013 collapse with a crushing victory over Oracle Team USA.
The gritty Kiwi challengers, with 26-year-old Peter Burling at the helm, downed the defenders 7-1 in the first to seven points series.
“We’re all ecstatic about what we have managed to achieve and we are on top of the world,” Burling said. “It’s going to be a good night.”
Burling supplanted Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill as the youngest helmsman to claim the oldest international trophy in sport.
Spithill was 30 when he steered the USA to victory in 2010, and he propelled their remarkable comeback from 1-8 down to a 9-8 triumph over New Zealand four years ago.
“To be able to win this event at such a young age is an unreal feeling,” Burling said. “However, I’m just a tiny part of a massive team and it is incredible to be able to reward the hard work of those hundreds of people who have supported us, not only here but back home in New Zealand as well.”
In fact, New Zealand needed eight race wins to get the victory, having started at minus-one thanks to the USA’s topping the standings in round-robin qualifying.
But no obstacle was too much for Burling and his young crew on an innovative catamaran that featured a radical cycle-powered grinding system to power its hydraulics.
The Kiwi crew included Simon van Velthooven, who won track cycling bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, and Blair Tuke, who teamed with Burling to win 49er gold at the Rio Games last year. Veteran Glenn Ashby – the lone hold-over from the San Francisco debacle – served as skipper and wing trimmer.
“A few years ago, it was absolutely brutal for the team, and it was a hard pill to swallow,” Ashby said. “For the sailors and all the other guys who are with the team, it’s a great redemption, and I guess a relief to right the wrongs of the last campaign.
“To Jimmy and the boys,” Ashby added, “it’s nice to share it around.”
Team New Zealand nearly folded after the heartbreak in San Francisco.
They had their struggles upon arrival in Bermuda, including a spectacular capsize in challenger racing that left their shore crew fighting to make repairs and keep them in the competition.
But after dispatching British legend Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR and Sweden’s Artemis Racing in the knockout stages to book a rematch with the USA, New Zealand were in dominant form. The challengers came into Monday with a 6-1 lead and in the ninth race of the series Burling lived up to his “iceman” reputation. Beaten to the first mark by Team USA, New Zealand seized the lead on the second leg and sailed confidently on to win by 55 seconds.
New Zealand had the defenders on the run since the final series opened more than a week earlier.
They stunned Team USA, backed by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, by sweeping all four races of the opening weekend, leaving the defenders scrambling to find answers in the five lay days before racing resumed. It did seem the USA had found some extra speed when the teams split two races on Saturday, but the writing was on the wall after Burling and his crew out-sailed the USA in two dominant victories on Sunday.
“Full credit to Team New Zealand. What a series. They really made fewer mistakes and they fully deserve it so our hat’s off to them,” Spithill said.
New Zealand claimed the Cup for the third time, after victories with Black Magic in 1995 and 2000.
Only four countries – the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland – have ever won the coveted trophy, named for the schooner America which won a race round the Isle of Wight in 1851 that was the birth of yachting’s most prestigious competition. New Zealand’s victory lends intrigue to the future of the Cup. Tradition holds that the defenders set the rules for the next edition.
New Zealand conspicuously declined to sign on to a framework announced earlier this year by Team USA and four other syndicates that called for the regatta to stick with similar class foiling catamarans and to be contested every two years.
Team New Zealand chief executive said he agreed with some aspects of the framework, and would hammer out other details with Luna Rossa, the Italian syndicate announced as challenger of record shortly after the race.