Top matches of 2013 - 2: The biggest comeback of all time

Team New Zealand's near-capsize was one of the most dramatic moments in sport on 2013. Photo / AP
Team New Zealand's near-capsize was one of the most dramatic moments in sport on 2013. Photo / AP

The biggest comeback ever or the biggest choke in sports? Either way you look at it (whether Oracle Team USA won the America's Cup or Emirates Team New Zealand lost it) the regatta was one of the most dramatic sporting events of all time.

Usually great matches last 80 or 90 minutes, or in the case of tennis up to five hours - but the 34th America's Cup went on for 15 days, three days longer than the previous record.

Oracle complete remarkable comeback

It wouldn't be an over-statement to say this regatta had everything:
- One team docked two points before racing even started
- Lead changes!
- A postponement card
- ETNZ taking control of the America's Cup before...
-...a near-capsize
- 'The greatest sailboat races of all time'
- A race called off for lack of wind
- Races called off for too much wind
- The comeback

It all came down to race 19, which in a first-to-nine format sounds implausible.

Oracle's Cup defence looked all but over just week earlier, with Team NZ leading the series 8-1. But a remarkable turnaround saw the Oracle team string together seven straight wins to tie up the series 8-all and send the match in a deciding 19th race.

Having found an extra gear upwind, USA-17 was too good for Team NZ in the finale - leaving the Kiwi team heartbreakingly anchored on match point.

In the end Oracle got the Cup, Team NZ got a parade.

Top matches of 2013
3: Kiwis snatch thrilling win
4: England's great Eden escape
5: All Blacks sneak past Ireland
6: Magpies finally win Shield again
7: Drawn in the USA! Ferns make history
8: Bayern knock Barca off their perch
9: Great Scott! Aussie wins Masters
10: Murray wins Wimbledon

What they said:

Paul Lewis (Herald on Sunday)

The camera settled for a moment on Dean Barker, steering the Emirates Team New Zealand AC72 back to base. His was the face of a stricken man.

That's sport; that's what happens when you are carrying the weight of a nation; that's what happens when you are on the wrong end of a great comeback.

The moment is worsened, maybe not for Barker but those looking on, in the knowledge that the loadings on him were almost the equal of the tonnes of loadings on the AC72.

Now from the depths of their damp burrows will come the vicious, anonymous trolls of the internet, the frustrated sports lovers with little ability to mix reason into knee-jerk reactions, the cynical, bitter haters (including at least one poor taste news website) who throw the choke word around. Like they would do any better. They will all have their little poisoned arrows aimed at Barker.

He was the visible face of this campaign, the skipper. That's how it works, unhappily. But Barker and Team New Zealand can take great pleasure, once the pain has receded somewhat, in what they achieved.

It's all about winning, true, but if Larry Ellison, Sir Russell Coutts and Oracle Team USA pause and consider for a while they might admit that this would have been no triumph at all had it not been for Team NZ.

Dana Johannsen (NZ Herald)
The old yachting romantics told me there's nothing like the first leg of the first race of the America's Cup.

It's the time when all the scheming, protest room shenanigans and all the other craziness which goes with the contest are finally cast aside and the points are scored on the water.
There's nowhere for the teams to hide once they hit the racecourse.

The first leg is a forerunner to what will transpire throughout the regatta. That first reach - the fast and furious 40-second sprint to the first mark - would tell us what we could expect from the rest of the contest. Or so they said.

The first leg of the 34th America's Cup match gave us no clue as to who would emerge the eventual winner. What it did tell us was it would be hideously tense, stomach-wrenchingly tight, high-octane racing. And unlike anything we've ever seen before.

After getting the jump over the line, Dean Barker, positioned to windward, powered over the top of Oracle Team USA. As the boats entered the three-boat-length zone at the first turning mark, Team New Zealand had just enough clear space in front of Oracle to round the mark ahead.

Spithill thought differently. Convinced he had the overlap, the aggressive Oracle skipper tried a spectacular high-speed luff on Barker as he set up for the bear away.

Kicking up clouds of spray, Oracle's bows swung perilously close across the Kiwi's stern. The penalty was quickly waved away by the umpires, much to the disbelief of Spithill.

Back in the media centre, long-time sailing scribes were feeling disbelief of a different kind.

We all sat there gaping at the screen as the two giant, skittish, carbon-fibre marvels of engineering travelled at speeds in excess of 80km/h with just a few metres separating them. After months of one-boat races and straightforward Team New Zealand victories, that first, nerve-jangling reach told us we finally had a real contest.

That uncomfortable feeling that reached down into the pit of my stomach scarcely went away during the finals series. It was the first of many tight crosses, near-misses and heart-stopping moments.

But there's nothing like the first leg of the first race of an America's Cup match.

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