America’s Cup: Australian yacht club 1st to challenge Oracle

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SAN DIEGO — Australia is finally back in the America’s cup for the first time in over a decade, 2000 was their last appearance. Winemaker and sailor Bob Oatley challenged Oracle software billionaire Larry Ellison. The challenge made by the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, located on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, was announced Monday.

The challenge was received by the Golden Gate Yacht Club the day Oracle Team USA completed its historic comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand on the San Fransisco Bay.

The HIYC will be the challenger of record, helping shape the rules for the 35th America’s Cup along with GGYC and other challengers.

“Given Australia’s previous success in the America’s Cup, the Admiral’s Cup and Olympic yachting, and as proud Australians, we think it is time for our nation to be back in our sport’s pinnacle event,” Oatley said in a statement.”The recently completed America’s Cup in San Francisco has revolutionized the sport for sailors and fans, and we were excited to see how many Australians played key roles on the teams and in the regatta organization.”

In 1983, Australia II beat Dennis Connor’s Liberty to end the New York Yacht Club’s 132 year winning streak in the America’s Cup. Australia was last led in 2000, by Jimmy Spithiil, who at the time was 20. Spithiil, now 34 has led Oracle Team USA to consecutive America’s Cup Victories.

Spithill is expected to stay with Oracle, although he did express he is happy his country is back in sailing’s biggest regatta.

“Mate, it’s about time,” Spithill said from San Francisco. “It’s been way too long. There are a lot of great athletes, designers, engineers and boat builders spread throughout all the teams. It’s a great sporting nation. I think we’ll see a real emergence of a lot of different countries getting involved in the cup after what we just witnessed.”

Spithiil skippered the USA’s 72 foot catamaran to eight straight victories in one the greatest comebacks in sports history to defeat skipper Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand, who only needed one victory to win the America’s Cup.

Oatley has dominated ocean racing in Australia for years with a number of yachts named Wild Oats, including having won six of the past eight Sydney to Hobart races. An Australian team led by Oatley won the last Admiral’s Cup, which is considered as the world’s top prize in ocean racing.

As defender, Ellison gets to decide where the next cup is contested. While Ellison has raved about San Francisco Bay as a host, organizers ran into vocal political opposition, lawsuits and community protests over the public cost of the event to the city’s treasury and environment.

Photo Credit: Reuters

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