By Bay City News Service
Today was a day for the sports history books, with Oracle Team USA sailing to an eighth straight victory in the America's Cup Finals to triumph over challenger Emirates Team New Zealand.
As Oracle's 72-foot catamaran crossed the finish line, cheers and chants of "USA" rang out among the crowd packed into the America's Cup Park at Piers 27/29 on San Francisco's Embarcadero.
Revelers drank champagne from plastic flutes and waved American flags as Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" blasted from nearby speakers.
"Kudos to Oracle Team USA," said Ron Bell, a gymnastics coach from Martinez. "It was the most fantastic race of all."
When the 19th race of the finals began at 1:15 p.m. today, Oracle and New Zealand were tied 8-8. Oracle had trailed by a margin of 8-1 last week, but its surprise winning streak had tied up the regatta and forced today's winner-take-all face-off. Either team needed nine points to win the cup.
The Oracle team started the finals with a two-point deficit after being penalized for illegal boat modifications during earlier exhibition races, making its comeback all the more stunning.
"You couldn't have written a better Hollywood script," said the elated Bell, who was dressed head-to-toe in red, white and blue. "I like the Kiwis too, they showed a lot of spirit."
Meanwhile, Auckland resident Rob Mataiti pondered the loss with a large New Zealand flag draped over his shoulders.
"I thought they had it," he said. "I feel humbled amongst the Americans."
Mataiti came to the Bay Area to watch the America's Cup and is staying with relatives in San Jose, including his wife's aunt, Doreen Folomu, who is originally from New Zealand.
"It would have been good if they had won," Folomu said.
An awards ceremony is planned at America's Cup Park this afternoon, with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and former mayor and current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom expected to attend.
The finals lasted longer than anticipated because of Oracle's comeback and fickle conditions on the water, which resulted in some races being postponed.
As of this morning, the wind was forecast to be stronger than 20 knots at the 1:15 p.m. start time of today's race, race officials said. The race would have been postponed if the wind had reached 24.4 knots, or about 28 mph.
There have been only two other neck-and-neck races in the 162-year history of the America's Cup, in 1920 and 1983, according to race officials.
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