Amazing US rally levels America's Cup
Oracle Team USA celebrates after beating Emirates Team New Zealand in race 18 of the America's Cup in San Francisco on September 24, 2013.
Adding to a regatta rich with dazzling moments, the Americans went from being last across the start to hitting the finish 54 seconds ahead of the Kiwis in the second race after earlier winning by 27 seconds.
The Americans, who were docked two points for pre-regatta violations before their series against the Kiwis even began, fell behind 8-1 last Wednesday and appeared destined for a lopsided defeat.
But that set the stage for potentially one of the most historic comebacks in sport as the US squad launched the longest win streak in the event's 162-year history.
"You can get wobbly in the knees or look straight down the barrel and smile; and that is what this team has done," Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said of how his crew has responded to being under the gun.
"We have come back from a very deep hole and we want this. We will come out ready to fight tomorrow."
While the score is even, Spithill said he still considers his team the underdog in the regatta -- having to notch 11 race wins on the water to be victorious in a best-of-17 points series while the Kiwis can triumph with just nine.
The Cup is set to be decided in a Wednesday showdown.
"Both teams are equally hungry to win this thing," said New Zealand skipper Dean Barker.
"We got beaten today and that is tough to handle, but sometimes you just have to accept those. It is frustrating, but we know we can still win this."
Having won eight races, New Zealand has been on match point for almost a week.
Only three times before in Cup history have boats won five races in a row, but those were in best-of-nine regattas where none had a chance to stretch the streak as long as Oracle Team USA has this month.
In Tuesday's second race, the Kiwis grabbed the inside lane at the first gate, forcing the Americans into a slow, wide turn and grabbing the advantage.
New Zealand fended off efforts by the Americans to close the gap in the second leg and held onto a lead of slightly more than 100 meters into the critical upwind third leg.
Oracle turned to match New Zealand's line and seemed to rocket ahead of the Kiwis. The Americans turned ahead of New Zealand and snatched a lead that only grew.
"It was amazing, not so much to be on the other side of them though," Barker said of the Americans turning the tide in the second race of the day. "These guys have sailed really well to get back in the event."
The Kiwis drew a pair of penalties at the start of the day's first race, crowding the Americans as they fiercely vied for positions.
"New Zealand was supposed to do everything it could to stay clear and it didn't," the Cup's chief umpire explained. "Two penalties were assessed."
The USA got a head start and rounded the first mark well ahead of the Kiwis.
The Americans blazed along the second leg, with speeds topping 80 kph (50 mph), and rounded the second gate 29 seconds ahead of the Kiwis.
New Zealand pressed hard on the tail of the American team, which maneuvered to block opportunities to pass.
The Kiwis narrowed the gap through the critical upwind leg, as both catamarans also sailed against the tide, but the Americans held on to cross the finish 27 seconds ahead of New Zealand.
"We absolutely do believe we can win," Barker said of the do-or-die showdown Wednesday on San Francisco Bay.
"It is one thing talking about it; we have to get everything together to make it happen."
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