Wednesday, July 4, 2007 Updated: July 5, 11:49 AM ET
The final race had a bit of everything
By Gary Jobson Special to ESPN.com
Everyone who watched this unbelievable race has to be exhausted. Lead changes, a dramatic foul, a drop out in the wind and then a penalty turn combined for the closest, most confusing and dramatic America's Cup finish in 156 years of racing. The end of this one sets the stage for an awful lot of speculation -- and it certainly helps set up the 33rd America's Cup, even before any decisions are announced.
There is no doubt that Alinghi won this contest fair and square. Every race was up for grabs, the boats were very even in speed, the breaks went both ways and all seven races were a joy to watch. Alinghi just had a little extra of everything when it counted, and that was the difference. It will be a long time before Emirates Team New Zealand recovers. But when the Kiwis do regroup, watch out, because they will be strong again.
Every amateur and professional sailing tactician in the world will have an opinion on the incident approaching the second windward mark of Race 7. It is a shame that the cameras did not capture the action from directly overhead. That was the only view that would ever solve the big question of whether or not there was a foul. Of course, the only thing that counts is the ruling by the on-the-water umpires. Unlike all the other races, I was not present in Valencia, so I was at the mercy of the replay camera and 3-D graphic rendering. Based on those views, I think New Zealand was very much at risk diving below Alinghi. If Alinghi held a steady course, then there was a foul. It looked to me like Alinghi would have sailed right through New Zealand. Alinghi's helmsman, Ed Baird, luffed hard at the appropriate moment to avoid a collision. I think the umpires made the correct call. You would think that was the end of the race, but then the capricious Valencia wind played a mean trick.
It all looked routine on the final leg, except that the wind was dropping fast. Alinghi was slowing down. Suddenly New Zealand had a chance to pass Alinghi -- if the crew could make the penalty turn in time. Can you possibly image being on one of those boats, while trying to do your job and simultaneously not watching the other boat? For Alinghi, it would not have made that much of a difference because it still could have sailed two more races being up by a score of 4-2. But for New Zealand, it was now or never.
On the final lunge toward the line, Alinghi accelerated while New Zealand had trouble recovering from the penalty turn. I thought Barker should have headed higher to get moving before aiming a right angle for the finish. I bet the hearts of the race committee were pounding too. Everyone was engaged. And just like that, it was over. Whew! It would be hard to image any more of a dramatic ending. It might be 156 years before it happens again, but then again it might be just two or three years.
Gary Jobson is a sailing analyst for ESPN. He is a former collegiate sailor and was a tactician for the 1977 America's Cup-winning yacht Courageous.