USA eye epic comeback against dominant New Zealand

HAMILTON, Bermuda: Oracle Team USA need another epic turnaround to thwart a young, hungry Emirates Team New Zealand in the 35th America's Cup that resumes Saturday on Bermuda's Great Sound.

The US team, backed by tech billionaire Larry Ellison erased a 1-8 deficit four years ago to stun New Zealand 9-8 in San Francisco.

Vying to win yachting's most prestigious trophy for a third straight time, they trail 0-3 in the first-to-seven points series – with all the indicators seemingly in the Kiwis' favour.

"Four years ago it was a miracle," said Franck Cammas, skipper of vanquished challenger Groupama Team France. "Miracles rarely occur twice in a row."

With their backs against the wall four years ago, Team USA used a lay day to hone their sailing technique and finally managed to get the most out of their 72-foot AC catamaran.

This time around, experts say the superior speed shown so far by New Zealand will be difficult, if not impossible for the USA to counter.

"The Americans will never have an advantage in pure speed as they ended up with in San Francisco in the final races," Cammas said.

Instead, the defenders will be relying on the guile of skipper Jimmy Spithill, the pugnacious Australian who brought them back from the brink last time.

Spithill was widely reckoned to have the advantage over young Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling, a seven-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist in the 49er class in Rio last year who despite his credentials came in with far less match racing experience.

Burling, however, has honed his skills over the course of challenger qualifying.

His steely resolve was evident when he shook off a frightening capsize to send British sailing icon Ben Ainslie packing in the challenger semi-finals before beating Sweden's Artemis Racing in the final.

And it was Spithill, not the unflappable Burling, who blinked first, incurring a penalty when he crossed the startline early in the opening race to hand New Zealand the advantage.

Burling and New Zealand went on to dominate the first four races – wiping out their one-point deficit due to the USA's qualifying round-robin win and then some.

Spithill said the five lay days since then would be the most important of the regatta, and Saturday should show what Oracle has been able to do with them.

While they focus on another comeback, New Zealand is keen to reproduce the outcome of 1995, when Russell Coutts skippered Black Magic to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner's Young America in San Diego.

That emphatic triumph saw New Zealand claim the first of back-to-back victories in the America's Cup that kept the "Auld Mug" in New Zealand until 2003. — AFP