WELLINGTON, New Zealand (CBS/AP) — Disappointed New Zealanders made their way to work Thursday morning after a weeklong national vigil ended with Emirates Team New Zealand’s loss to Oracle Team USA in the deciding race of sailing’s America’s Cup.
Team New Zealand blew an 8-1 lead, falling 9-8 on Wednesday on San Francisco Bay when Team USA took its eight straight race for one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
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For the past seven days, Kiwis gathered around televisions at yacht clubs, in bars and cafes, at work, and at home to watch their team try to finish off the Americans. Instead, they saw Team New Zealand’s margin steadily erode.
At Auckland’s Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, the official club that would have housed the America’s Cup if it came back to New Zealand, crowds dropped away as the week progressed and as hopes of a New Zealand win receded.
As Team USA crossed the finish line on San Francisco Bay to retain the America’s Cup for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, squadron members in Auckland politely applauded the Americans, then rose to their feet to salute Team New Zealand.
Squadron vice-commodore Andy Anderson said New Zealanders could still take heart from the fact the American team was headed by a New Zealander, former Team New Zealand boss Russell Coutts, and that the Oracle boat was built in New Zealand.
“I think sailing was the winner on the day. It’s been a fantastic spectacle,” Anderson told National Radio. “New Zealand didn’t have the legs at the end of it. Speed’s everything and you’d have to say the might put in behind the Oracle team and their professionalism means they’ve done a fantastic job and we wish them all the best.”
Anderson said it was an impressive feat for Team USA to win eight consecutive races.
“We had a little bit of bad luck at times but at the end of the day they’ve done a great job, they’re both great teams.” Anderson said. “Team New Zealand has done a fantastic job getting this far and there’s only a few seconds in it.”
Anderson said New Zealanders should not be bitter at Team New Zealand, its head Grant Dalton and skipper Dean Barker, perhaps anticipating a public backlash at one of the worst form reversals in the history of world sport.
“They’ve done an amazing job,” he said. “It’s been a long campaign, several years getting to this point and you’d have to say all credit to Team New Zealand, well done.”
Anderson also touched on the question, which has increasingly been asked in recent days, about whether Team New Zealand might ever challenge for the Cup again. While Team USA had the support of software billionaire Larry Ellison, the New Zealand team relied on a handful of sponsors and the financial support of Kiwi taxpayers.
“I think it’s a very big task (to challenge again),” he said. “We’ll certainly need the sponsors and people to back it who are real believers.
“But there have been a lot of those behind this campaign and will they be back next time? Who knows? We’d certainly like to be back in there for another challenge, for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron to be challenging again. But there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge, as they say.”
The question of public funding for a future challenge is already controversial. The New Zealand government contributed $40 million of taxpayer money to team New Zealand, following an initial $36 million contribution in 2008.
An online poll conducted by the New Zealand Herald newspaper while New Zealand still led Team USA in the finals series showed 36 percent of respondents believed the government should make another major contribution to Team New Zealand and a further 22 percent said the contribution should be increased.
But when the teams were locked together at 8-8 before Thursday’s race 55 percent of respondents opposed further government funding and only 32 percent supported continued taxpayer assistance.
(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco and Associated Press. All rights reserved.)