As Oracle Team USA sails closer to what could be the most historic comeback in America’s Cup history, more fans of the home team are starting to surface and are giving the spirited Kiwis some competition.
After winning both races Sunday, Oracle trails Emirates Team New Zealand 8-5 in the race to 9 victories and the Cup — something nearly unimaginable a weekend ago when each team took a win and Emirates upped its lead to 7-1.
Spectators continue to be a diverse mix of American and Kiwi fans, but the Americans are more vocal and U.S. flags are more prevalent.
“A lot of Kiwis came to watch it, but because it dragged on for so long, a lot of them are gone,” said Paparangi Hipango, 22, who grew up in New Zealand and is a senior at UC Berkeley. “But there are still a lot of supporters.”
Sunday’s 31,000 spectators at America’s Cup Park and America’s Cup Village marked one of the highest counts recorded since the first two Saturdays of the much-hyped event. Since the competition kicked off July 4, 920,000 people have visited the two venues — a 290,000 boost in a week, but still under the 2 million initial estimate.
“Interest is growing, as you would expect in a sporting event that has seen a complete turnaround,” said Tim Jeffery, a spokesman for the America’s Cup Event Authority.
San Francisco resident Lauranne Lee, carrying a sign that read “Don’t Stop Believing!!! OTUSA,” likened the atmosphere near the finish line at America’s Cup Park to her other devotion, the Giants.
“At first the sign was, ‘Torture sailing is back,’” the 54-year-old sailor said. “We got over the torture because we got over the penalties. Now it’s become belief.”
Oracle supporter Steve Rienhart, 51, of Redwood City even said, “I think the comeback has made people forget about the Larry Ellison part. It’s all about the sailors.” Oracle is billionaire Ellison’s team.
Hipango said she liked the newfound sense of competition and excitement, even among people who knew nothing about sailing and even though her team has been shaky.
“My uncle works for Team New Zealand, helps with the maintenance of the boat, and he says the boys’ spirits are still high at the base,” she said.
Recognizing Hipango, New Zealander Richard Sherwin, 67, walked by and said with a sarcastic laugh, “Another bloody day!”