AmericaOne clinches challenger final berth

Cayard's boat beats Nippon for 8th victory in 9 races

January 12, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- San Francisco-based AmericaOne, led by skipper Paul Cayard, clinched one of two challenger finalist berths in America's Cup competition today when it turned back a strong challenge from Japan entry Nippon on the ninth day of semifinal racing.

The victory gave the St. Francis Yacht Club's AmericaOne its eighth win in nine races, good for eight points and an insurmountable lead in the semifinal standings. At the same time, its 17-second victory over Nippon eliminated the Japanese from advancing to the finals.

Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes kept its hopes alive by defeating San Francisco's America True by 46 seconds and gaining its fifth point in the standings.

If Stars & Stripes wins its last two races, against AmericaOne tomorrow and its makeup race Friday against America True, Conner's underdog one-boat campaign will have defied all odds to go into what is expected to be a sudden-death sail-off against Italy's highly financed Prada, a contest that would decide who goes into the finals against AmericaOne.

Some sailors here are already suggesting that Cayard will deliberately lose his last race tomorrow to Stars & Stripes, thereby forcing the sail-off, which, if Stars & Stripes were to win, could significantly enhance AmericaOne's prospects in the challenger finals, a best-of-9 match-racing series that begins Jan. 25.

Stars & Stripes tactician Tom Whidden isn't surprised at the talk on the waterfront.

"Oh sure, you could make a case for that," Whidden said. "It could be that Cayard considers us a little weak in the light air and maybe not as good a boat all-round as Prada. He might be thinking that would be a good move.

"On the other hand, he might fear our experience and our abilities in a breeze so that he wouldn't want that to happen. I'd say it's not a bad guess, but it's only speculation. We will have to wait and see."

Conner, meanwhile, was exultant on shore after his crew crossed the finish line today.

"I'm alive!" he said. "I've got two stakes through my heart, but I'm alive."

He cautioned, however, that "no good" comes out of speculation on a boat race.

"There are just too many unknowns," Conner said. "How hard is it going to blow tomorrow and the next day? Who's going to break down? At this point, all we know is that we do have control over our own destiny. There's not much more anyone can ask for."

In today's other race, Prada edged France's Le Defi BTT by nine seconds for its sixth point in the standings. Prada has only one more race in this semifinal round, against Nippon tomorrow.

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