AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Dennis Conner's ninth America's Cup campaign ended Friday when his New York-based team, Stars & Stripes, was eliminated from the 31st Cup regatta by OneWorld of Seattle.
OneWorld beat Team Dennis Conner by 1 minute to complete a 4-0 sweep of their best-of-seven quarterfinal; OneWorld advanced to the semifinals, which begin Dec. 9.
Prada of Italy -- the challenger champion off Auckland two years ago -- advanced to its second Louis Vuitton Cup semifinal when it beat Sweden's Victory Challenge by 1:37, also completing a 4-0 series victory. The success of the Seattle and Italian teams means the most powerful challenger teams, those with billionaire backers, will now line up in the four-team semifinals.
OneWorld, supported by Seattle cell-phone pioneer Craig McCaw and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Prada, backed by the Milan fashion house of the same name, join Alinghi of Switzerland and Oracle of San Francisco in the final four. Alinghi is funded by Swiss pharmaceutical billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli and Oracle by Larry Ellison, the San Francisco software magnate.
Conner has won the Cup four times since 1974, and the New York Yacht Club held the trophy for 132 years. In the semifinals, Oracle will race Alinghi and OneWorld will take on Prada, but there are legal issues to settle ashore before that is confirmed.
Stars & Stripes and Prada are partners in a legal action that seeks to have OneWorld thrown out of the Cup for acquiring secret design information belonging to other teams. The Cup's Arbitration Panel will meet Dec. 7 and 8 to consider that case, while the Cup jury will begin Dec. 9 to consider a further protest from Stars & Stripes that OneWorld breached sailing's rules of fair play.
If the Panel or jury rule against OneWorld, Conner's team could be called back into action. Because of that reason, his team won't leave Auckland anytime soon.
Sweden placed its last, faint hope for Friday's challenger regatta in the hands of Magnus Holmberg, giving him the helm of its race yacht Orm in place of double Olympic gold medalist Jesper Bank.
Victory sailed an aggressive pre-start and raced bow to bow with Prada for most of the first beat. Prada led into the top mark two boat-lengths ahead of Victory, which tried but failed to enforce a starboard tack advantage.
The Italian yacht rounded the first mark 15 seconds ahead and increased that lead on most subsequent legs -- by 14 seconds on the second and 11 seconds on the third.
The lead became decisive on the third beat, when Victory had trouble with the shackle holding its genoa halyard and had to sail for more than three minutes without a headsail. Prada extended its lead by more than a minute, and the race was all but over.
Stars & Stripes also fought doggedly to keep alive its campaign, trailing OneWorld by no more than 21 seconds over the first five legs. Stars & Stripes also sailed into trouble at the last mark rounding, when it briefly lost control of its spinnaker, and it flailed across the mark.
The incident led to an immediate penalty against Stars & Stripes and effectively put the race out of reach.
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