May 21, 2007

Losing the Cup (again)

Yesterday BMW Oracle was knocked out of the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, meaning that for the fourth time in a row, the US entry will not take home the America's Cup. Worse, for the third time in a row, the US entry didn't even win the Louis Vuitton Cup. This, in an event that the United States won 25 times in a row between 1851 and 1980.

Even worse than losing the cup is the embarrassing way that it happened. BMW Oracle entered the semifinals as the favorite to challenge Alinghi for the America's Cup, and many believed that they had a good chance to bring it back to the US. Instead, they were blown away by a Luna Rossa team that BMWO had beaten twice in the round robins.

It's not even like the races were close. BMWO won a single race, and had to mount an amazing comeback to accomplish that much. In all the other races, Luna Rossa either dominated the pre-start and began the race with a commanding lead, or the boats started fairly even, but the first wind shift went to Luna Rossa and gave them a commanding lead. In most of the races, by the time the boats rounded the first mark, BMWO was in a position of needing a miracle to win.

Before yesterday's race, Chris Dickson finally stepped down as skipper and helmsman of BMWO. He certainly had made some mistakes, but I'm not sure how much of the American loss was his fault. Really, I can't figure out what could account for the free fall the BMW Oracle team has been in for the past week.

Most people who read this probably weren't even aware that the America's Cup competition had started, and they probably don't care too much that the US has lost it again. But the America's Cup was for years a symbol of American dominance. Sure, it was just a sailing competition, but think of it this way: The US won 7 Olympic gold medals in basketball before Munich 1972 and was considered unbeatable. Imagine if they had won 25 in a row. That's how dominant American teams used to be in America's Cup competition.

Unfortunately, it looks like that era is gone forever. We can now only hope to emerge victorious after a hard fought battle with equals, who also have unlimited budgets and excellent sailors.

I still plan to watch the rest of the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America's Cup, but it won't be with the same intensity that I cheered for BMW Oracle. Now I'll put my support behind Emirates Team New Zealand, but my national pride is not on the line anymore. Four more years until the next chance to win back the cup...

Photo credit: Valencia Sailing

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