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Broken Sporting Curses - America's Cup Sailing

Updated on March 28, 2017

Taking the apostrophe out of the America's Cup

Sporting Curses Broken – Australia win America’s Cup 1983


We often mock the Americans for calling their baseball championship match the ‘World Series’, even though it is only called such after the name of the newspaper that sponsored the series. Their penchant for calling the winners of any of their sports competitions World Champions can’t match the arrogance inferred in the title of the America’s Cup sailing competition. The apostrophe suggesting that the Cup belongs to them. It stretches back to 1851 when some upstart Americans came to the Cowes and challenged the best British yacht to a race around the Isle of white, when the Americans finished twenty one minutes ahead the Brits were dumfounded and were determined to gain their revenge. From then on Brits and Canadians would challenge the American’s every time they thought they had a yacht that could beat them. By the time it got to 1960s the British and Canadians hadn’t managed a victory and allowed others nations to challenge the Americans, it seemed they no longer cared who had the fastest yacht as long as it wasn’t the Americans.

By 1983 there had been 25 challenges in total, with France, Italy, Australia and Sweden all having a go, none with any success, so the Americans winning run stretched 132 years and it was difficult to argue with that apostrophe.

In 1983 the challenge came from Australia, who had a mysterious winged keel added to their boat, I’ve no idea what a winged keel does but it certain conditions it made the Australian boat go faster than the Americans. The challenge was raced out over a best of seven race series. Until this point the Americans had never lost more than two races, now they were tied at three races all and going into a deciding race. This got the Americans in such a flap that they held secret meetings and tried to prove that the now famous winged keel was designed in part by a Dutch scientist and wasn’t entirely the work of Australians, thus making it illegible for the challenge. It seemed they really didn’t care how they kept hold of their trophy and weren’t at all to embarrassed to try anything to find a way to beat off the challengers out of the water. Despite their best efforts they would have to try and win it fair and square out on the Ocean.

Order looked like being restored, with the Americans well in front and the widely acknowledged best sailor in the world Dennis Conner in charge of their yacht. But then on a downwind section of the race the Australians made up a miraculous distance to get in front at the final turn, with 3miles upwind left to go. Then came the frenetic finish, the Americans determined to give every last effort to get back in front and retain the trophy that they regarded as theirs. With a sense of wanting to vanquish the underhand Americans, whose actions outside of the water had created a great sense of injustice, the Australians were even more determined to make history. Somehow, someway the Australians kept ahead and won by 41seconds.

Whilst the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke marked the moment by granting his public a national holiday, the American representatives were far from gracious losers. Television cameras and photographers were banned from an extremely low-key trophy presentation, a trophy that had to be unbolted from its place in the stuffy New York Yachting Club before being taken to Australia.


Lesson to be learned from breaking this curse:

Champions are made when nobody is watching. Doing the best preparation possible gives you the best possible chance of success.


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