New Zealand wins the America's Cup after 17 years
AT last, they can celebrate - Team New Zealand have lifted the America's Cup from Oracle Team USA with a thrilling win off Bermuda this morning (NZ time).
Needing just one more win in the first-to-seven format challenge match, the Kiwis made no mistake, setting aside the ghosts of 2013, when they squandered eight match-points in San Francisco.
Trailing 6-1, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill got the best of the start, even off the line, but steaming into the first mark with a three-second advantage.
Emirates Team NZ have not lost a race that they lead after the first leg and their only loss came when they lagged. This time, they would have to do it from behind.
Helmsman Peter Burling had his nose ahead halfway down the second leg and enjoyed a five-second advantage through the next gate. Oracle fell off the foils as they rounded, conceding more valuable ground.
"We were obviously pretty focused on getting to that reach mark first today and the boys did a great job there," said Spithill afterwards. "But unfortunately they were the quicker boat downwind today, for sure.
"It was very very tough to keep close. I thought upwind, the boats were a lot more competitive - theboys did a great job tacking - but downwind, they had the speed."
Team NZ stretched that advantage to 26 seconds upwind, with Oracle splitting to the opposite side of the course, looking for some breeze to blow them back into the contest.
Burling simply sailed a faultless race, reaching the fourth gate 35 seconds ahead and immediately tacking to cover Oracle's next attempted split, literally staying one step ahead of Spithill.
The American team did make gains upwind, trying to engage the Kiwis in a tacking duel to grind them down.
But it was too little too late for the defenders, as Burling allowed himself a small smile, realising only disaster could intervene.
"It's just unreal, it's exactly what we came here to do," said Burling afterwards. "We're just on top of the world.
"It's been three years of hard work for the people in this team - there's probably been 100 people working towards this goal."
The result would have been particulatly sweet for Team NZ skipper Glenn Ashby, the only surviving crew member from that San Francisco collapse.
"He obviously plays a massive part in what we do, but Blair [Tuke] as well, trimming the foil ... everyone in the whole team. You can see how ecstatic about what we've managed to achieve here.
"I definitely don't think we'd be here without that heartache from San Francisco, but Bermuda has put on an absolutely amazing event there - the weather has been absolutely perfect.
"We're just absolutely blown away by the support we've been getting from the shore and everyone back home. We're just excited to share with everyone now."
Spithill, who equalled Sir Russell Coutts for most finals wins over the weekend, was understandbly devastated by the result. There woiuld be no miracle comebacks this time.
"We're disdappinted right now, but full credit to Team NZ," he offered. "Man, what a a series ... they really made fewer mistakes and they fully deserve it."
Spithill admitted his rivals had taken a different path to all the other challenging and defending teams, and that unknown element may have been a factor in the campaign.
"It's always hard to know, there's always that anticipation. They were down there [in New Zealand] training on their own and you've really got to give credi tto them for the incredible job they've done."
He was almost in tears, as he contemplated his immediate future without the trophy.
"I'm not sure, I've just spent so much time and energy on really just one day at a time," he said. "I've really just got to thank the entire team and then just take it from there.
"The boys have got to hold their heads up high, they fought hard the whole way and I'm very proud of them."
35th America's Cup match
Race 9: Emirates Team New Zealand beat Oracle Team USA
New Zealand win America's Cup match 7-1