SAN FRANCISCO >> The big black cat almost used up its last life at the start, burying its bows in a wave and falling behind a boatload of Kiwis.
Of course, it was only fitting in this America’s Cup that Oracle Team USA would need to survive near-defeat again.
With one last spectacular push in a winner-take-all finale Wednesday, the United States managed to hang onto the Auld Mug in closing out the longest, fastest and, by far, wildest America’s Cup ever with one of the greatest comebacks in sports.
“I’m going to rank it No. 1. We never gave up,” skipper Jimmy Spithill said.
Spithill steered Oracle’s space-age, 72-foot catamaran to its eighth straight victory, speeding past Dean Barker and Team New Zealand sailing upwind in Race 19 on a San Francisco Bay course bordered by the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Embarcadero.
All but defeated a week ago, the 34-year-old Australian and his international crew twice rallied from seven-point deficits to win 9-8. Owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, Oracle Team USA was docked two points for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas and had to win 11 races to keep the trophy.
For eight races, they sailed with no margin for error in a new class of boats that had a learning curve that was almost straight up.
“There’s nothing like going all in,” Spithill said. “I’m so proud of the boys. … They didn’t flinch.”
It could have been over shortly after the start Wednesday just inside the Golden Gate Bridge.
Oracle’s hulking black catamaran — with a giant No. 17 on each hull — buried its twin bows in a wave approaching the first mark and Barker turned his red-and-black cat around the buoy with a 7-second lead.
“We just knew it was going to be a tough race,” Spithill said. “I just have so much confidence in the boys on board and the boat. When you sail these boats, you’re on the edge. You really red-line them the whole way. They keep you on your toes. It’s a very demanding boat but it’s very rewarding at the same time.”