Conner begins uphill fight in gutsy wire-to-wire win

April 24, 1992|By Marty Klinkenberg | Marty Klinkenberg,Knight-Ridder

SAN DIEGO -- Things were looking bleak for Dennis Conner. He lost the first two races of the America's Cup defender finals by a combined 3 minutes 56 seconds and would have lost a third race had it not been abandoned because of a lack of wind.

And things got worse. Wednesday, Conner lost to Bill Koch's America3 by 4 minutes 20 seconds to fall into an 0-3 hole in the best-of-13 series.

"At one point, it looked like we were going to need binoculars to see them," Conner said of America3, which led on 23 of 24 legs in the finals' first three races. "It was the roughest day we've had. There was no chance to be Houdini."

Cynics suggested that Wednesday's crushing defeat might be the last straw. Instead, Conner responded with another gutsy performance yesterday by leading wire to wire.

Conner took advantage of wind shifts and blunders by America3 while staking Stars & Stripes to a 1-minute 25-second lead at the third of seven marks. He then held off the charging America3 crew for a 39-second triumph.

America3 has won 11 of 15 races against Stars & Stripes and needs to win only four of the next nine to advance to the Cup finals. Conner must win six of nine to survive.

"I really don't know if we can do it," Conner said. "It's going to depend on our ability to coax the maximum out of our boat and having conditions that aren't too unfavorable for us.

"No question it is an uphill battle. The America3 boat is quite a bit faster than ours."

New Zealand took a 3-1 lead in the challenger finals with a wire-to-wire victory over Il Moro di Venezia. The Kiwis, who won by 2:26, led by three seconds at the start and increased their lead at each of the next seven marks.

The victory left them only two shy of a berth in the Cup finals. Italy would have to win four of the last five races in the best-of-nine challenger skirmish to survive.

Conner, who had to trash his own computer renderings of a second boat when his finances fell short, is now fighting a physical as well as financial battle.

He steered Stars & Stripes with his right knee wrapped as the result of a mishap that occurred in Monday's defeat.

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