America's Cup Winner: Money

May 09, 1992

The America's Cup sailing competition enters its final stage this weekend, and as usual money is winning.

An Italian syndicate and a U.S. megamillionaire have won the right to compete against each other for one of the most valued trophies in sailboat racing. Valued is the word, since winning it will cost anywhere from $65 million to $100 million.

"Our technology is better than the Italian technology," bragged Bill Koch, the Kansas oil magnate who financed the winning U.S. entry. He said nothing about superior sailing skills, which Mr. Koch conceded to the rival American skipper he just defeated -- only technology. Which translates into money, which buys the technology. Mr. Koch had it, and this time his opponent, Dennis Conner, who dominated U.S. America's Cup racing for 12 years with similar tactics, didn't.

Ironically, Mr. Conner may have won more respect in defeat for his spunky, underfinanced campaign. He was outclassed from the start by Mr. Koch's deep pockets, which paid for four boats at some $5 million apiece just to determine which was fastest. This year, Mr. Conner had only one, and it wasn't fast enough. Still, he called on his superior sailing skills to threaten the Koch group until the end, in a finish reminiscent of Jimmy Connors' tennis comeback at the U.S. Open last summer.

So the Italian Il Moro di Venezia, owned by an industrialist with even deeper pockets than Mr. Koch's, and the U.S. boat, America3, will race each other in a best-of-seven series beginning today. The America's Cup competition is no longer a contest among Edwardian gentlemen. Nor is it the caricature of 1989, when a maxiyacht and a catamaran competed in the aftermath of two years of legal squabbling. Now it's a contest of computer designs and checkbooks.

"This is a high-tech game," Mr. Conner said. "It's funded with lots of money. This is what the America's Cup is all about and will probably always continue to be so." May the best bank account win.

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