Looking back on how Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history, it’s hard to believe it all happened in only a little over a week. As late as 11 days into the 18-day regatta, an Emirates Team New Zealand victory was pretty much a forgone conclusion, as they led the series by an apparently insurmountable score of 8-1.
It was the same thing over the next few days, as Oracle began winning those same races that would ultimately prove to be start of what was arguably the greatest comeback in all of sports.
The fact that by the last couple of races, the roles had reversed to the point where it was Oracle that couldn’t be beat and the Kiwis who didn’t stand a chance only makes the turn-around all the more incredible.
What follows is a race-by-race chronology of how Oracle turned things around, in what was truly a regatta for the ages.
Day 1 (Saturday, Sept. 7)
2 to -2
Emirates Team New Zealand wins both races, displaying the same dominance it did against Artemis and Luna Rossa. With the exception of a single breakdown when sailing against Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup, ETNZ has yet to lose a race all summer. There are those who wonder if they ever will.
3 to -1
Although ETNZ loses its first race of the series, the Kiwis still appear firmly in control, with equal or better speed on all points of sail and generally better boat handling.
4 to -1
ETNZ easily passes Oracle on the windward leg, after which Oracle plays its sole postponement card to end the day’s racing and regroup.
Day 4 (Thursday, Sept. 12)
6 to -1
Emirates Team New Zealand wins both races, once again showing superior boatspeed to windward. It appears the writing is on the wall.
6 to 0
Oracle wins another race after ETNZ nearly capsizes on the beat. The second race is abandoned with the Kiwis in the lead when conditions exceed the mandated wind limit. One bright spot: Oracle has now worked off the two-point penalty it incurred for illegally modifying its AC45s during the World Series.
Day 6 (Sunday, Sept. 15)
7 to 1
ETNZ and Oracle split two races. For the first time Oracle shows a real turn of speed to windward as the two teams battle furiously and the lead goes back and forth all day.
Tuesday, Sept. 17: no racing as a period of nagging postponements begins
Day 8 (Wednesday, Sept. 18)
8 to 1
ETNZ draws within one point of winning the Cup. The second race is postponed as the wind limits are once again exceeded. The general consensus is that the 34th America’s Cup is all but over, as the press corps begins booking flights back home.
Day 9 (Thursday, Sept. 19)
8 to 2
Oracle lives to fight another day, thanks in large part to Jimmy Spithill’s aggressive starting tactics. Second race is postponed.
8 to 3
Oracle wins the first race of the day, and then gets the break of its life when the second race is abandoned after the Kiwis fail to finish within the time limit, despite being literally half a mile ahead.
Saturday, Sept. 21: another postponement due to light winds
8 to 5
Oracle amazes the pundits by winning both races, though a combination of aggressive starting tactics, and quickly improving boathandling and speed.
8 to 6
Oracle leads ETNZ wire-to-wire on its way to another victory. The second race of the day is postponed after a series of delays. The pundits are beginning to speculate about the real possibility of a comeback.
Day 14 (Tuesday, Sept. 24)
8 to 8
Oracle crushes the Kiwis, winning both races. In the first race, Spithill “hooks” ETNZ at the start, putting them two penalties in the hole. Although ETNZ is leading the second race at the leeward mark, Oracle easily sails by them on the third leg, foiling to windward as it does so. The look on ETNZ skipper Dean Barker’s face afterward says all.
Day 15 (Wednesday, Sept. 25)
8 to 9
Oracle’s speed and boathandling have now become such that, incredibly, the race almost seems like a foregone conclusion. Oracle plays it safe, keeping things close until the leeward mark, then turns on the afterburners on the beat. All the Kiwis can do is watch as Oracle crosses the finish line almost a minute ahead. The 34th America’s Cup is over.