One year after history was written in the waters of San Francisco Bay for the 34th America's Cup, the race is looking for a new home for 2017. 2013 saw one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, after Oracle Team USA overcame a 8-1 deficit to defeat Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8 and hold on to the oldest trophy in international sport. While San Diego and Bermuda duke it out for claim to host the 35th America's Cup, Oracle knows there's no shortage of teams that want to become the first club to to claim the Cup outside the USA since 2007.
We take a look at some of the strongest challengers who threaten Oracle's goal of defending the Auld Mug in the 35th America's Cup.
Artemis Racing, Sweden
Sweden has never won the America's Cup, though Artemis Racing appears to be the country's first legitimate shot. Founded in 2006 by businessman and sailor, Torbjörn Törnqvist, Artemis began taking world titles in the MedCup circuit and the TP52 series. After being accepted as a challenger for the 34th America's Cup, Artemis won Match Racing titles in both the Regattas of Naples and Venice, eventually taking the Overall Match Racing title, in 2012. All momentum suggested Artemis would be the one to dethrone the Golden Gate Yacht Club. Then, on May 9, 2013, one of the AC72 catamarans being tested capsized during a training session in the San Francisco Bay. Artemis crew member and British Olympic Gold Medal-winning sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson became trapped underneath the wreck's hull for about 10 minutes, and drowned. The America's Cup group, and indeed the entire international sailing community, mourned Simpson, who was one of the most respected competitive sailors in the world. Two months later, Artemis launched their other catamaran, and behind team leader Iain Percy, was able to get the vessel up on her hydrofoils. One month later, on August 5, the crew was able to successfully execute their first foiling gybe — a shift in direction while facing away from the wind. Ultimately, Artemis would be swept by Italy's Luna Rossa in the semifinals. However, by overcoming the tragedy of losing a treasured crew-mate — particularly one with as much talent as Simpson — Artemis showed that they can compete deep into the America's Cup rounds. As Tornqvist said, "We said to ourselves our victory was to participate and be on the start line in the semifinals. We did that, and we didn't do more than that this time. But we'll be back."
Emirates Team New Zealand
If you doubt how badly Emirates wants to avenge falling to the Americans after coming within a single victory of taking the America's Cup, take into account that, apart from Rugby, New Zealand prides itself on World-Class sailing. After consecutive Cup wins in 1995 and 2000, Team New Zealand became the first club, apart from the United States, to win, and defend, the America's Cup. After officially becoming "Emirates" in 2007, New Zealand won the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup before falling in the 32nd America's Cup to defenders Alinghi (Switzerland). Defeating Italy's Luna Rossa 7-1 in the Louis Vuitton Cup, however, Emirates would have another shot at the title. Emirates became favored in the 34th America's Cup when Oracle began the match with a two-race deficit, due to a penalty applied for illegal modifications to Team USA's AC45 during the America's Cup World Series. Not to mention, they had a lot of support from home — the New Zealand government issued a NZ$36 million grant to allow Emirates to compete in the cup. The money certainly was not wasted. Emirates quickly jumped out to an 8-1 lead over Oracle, with just one more win needed to hoist the Auld Mug. Race 13 caused controversy, and may have handed the Cup to the Kiwis, had the race's time limits not come into play, effectually cancelling out the race. Emirates had been just minutes from winning that race. Then, the unimaginable happened. Oracle came back to win eight straight races to retain the Cup. Emirates, and New Zealand, were stunned. Now, one year after the historic race, New Zealand is poised to go another campaign deep into the 35th America's Cup. Emirates signed 2013 49er World and European Champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who were also 2012 Olympic Silver Medalists. Burling will be skipper, and Tuke will take the headsail. Additionally, Emirates seems to have plenty of financial support, when, on June 25, 2014, they announced that they had financial backing to the point where they now no longer need the government's assistance (which had been offered). The announcement of New Zealand's intention to challenge in the 35th America's Cup, which was announced as soon as the sailors arrived for the Welcome Home ceremony, was greeted with intense, thunderous cheering.
Luna Rossa Challenge, Italy
Though Emirates had been something of a Boston Red Sox to Luna Rossa's Anaheim Angels of the early 2000s, the Italians, who also have never claimed the Auld Mug, have come close enough in recent years to turn heads. Having been created in 2000 for the purpose of pursuing the America's Cup, the club immediately won the Louis Vuitton Cup, defeating AmericaOne 5-4. After qualifying as a challenger that year, Luna Rossa was swept by Team New Zealand 5-0 in Auckland. Three years later, the Italians returned to the Louis Vuitton Cup, but fell to OneWorld in the semis. In 2007, it was Emirates again who eliminated Luna Rossa in the finals. For the second straight consecutive challenge, Max Sirena was announced as skipper for the Luna Rossa's challenge in the 2017 America's Cup, while the majority of the crew, including Frencesco Bruni, Ben Durham and Alister Richardson, will be returning. What's more, however, is that Luna Rossa is a club that seems to constantly adjust their strategy, making it difficult to predict their approach, which means they could be a dark horse come 2017. Sirena says he looks at Oracle's historic 2013 defense as inspiration for Italy's 2017. "The America's Cup is an ongoing process, and until the last day of the last regatta, you must study, design, improve."
After announcing their intent to challenge in January, 2014, Team France is already set to take part in the Tour de France de Voile, the International C-Class Catamaran Championship, and the Extreme Sailing Series. It is rumored that the team has secured $20 million for engineering studies to give the club an edge come 2017. The club itself, meanwhile, is new, and is looking to add experience on deck behind the efforts of business and yachtsmen, Michel Desjoyeaux, Olivier de Kersauson, and Franck Cammas. While Team France may be completely unpredictable at this stage, so was Luna Rossa when they first developed, and they did not have the funding that Team France enjoys today. Furthermore, according to Desjoyeaux, France is using a number of architects, technicians and engineers who worked with both Oracle and Emirates in the 34th America's Cup. Look for France to recruit, successfully, a number of Olympic-class sailors in early 2015.
Ben Ainslie Racing, Great Britain
This is the single greatest threat to Oracle Team USA retaining the Auld Mug in 2017. Olympic gold medalist Brit, Ben Ainslie, likely has more to do with Oracle's historic comeback in the 34th America's Cup than any other sailor. It was Ainslie who replaced John Kostecki as Oracle's tactician on September 12, 2013, winning 10 of the next 12 races for the Americans. Arguably the greatest competitive sailor today, Ainslie now looks to challenge the club he helped to accomplish history. Ainslie has established the formation of an all-British team to challenge Oracle in 2017, with a first British title in mind. Ainslie himself looks to be helmsman, but says that by 2017, if another sailor would be more appropriate in that role, he would adjust accordingly. This is also where the decision of location comes into play. Some feel that, should the 35th America's Cup be held in San Diego, Oracle may have some advantage. However, the other favored port is Bermuda, a British territory. Ainsley's campaign for 2017 has already said to be funded worth £80 million, and he seeks to recruit 100 people by 2017, according to The Guardian, who also says a brand new sailing hub is scheduled to be completed in Portsmouth by May of 2015 for that very purpose. For Americans, going up against Ainsley on the water is the equivalent of playing one-on-one against Michael Jordan — and he has one goal in mind. "For us in Britain, to bring the America's Cup home would be a massive thing for this team and this country."
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