By Marco della Cava, Elizabeth Weise and Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO - Thousands of spectators gathered on the shores of San Francisco Bay early Wednesday, where they scrambled for vantage points to watch Oracle Team USA capture the America's Cup in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
The winner-take-all race against challenger Emirates Team New Zealand ended about 4:38, sending jubilation among the race crowd over winning sailing's most prestigious and best known race began with with little interest.
Oracle Team USA had come back from an 8-to-1 deficit in the first-to-nine series to win eight straight races. Oracle Team USA, backed by Silicon Valley software billionaire Larry Ellison, tied the series at 8-8 Tuesday. Its sleek 72-foot catamaran won the first of two Tuesday races after New Zealand, plagued by poor pre-race positioning and two penalties for making contact with Team Oracle's USA's craft, greased a 27-second win. The American 11-man crew won the second race by nearly one minute.
Fans began staking out prime viewing positions early Wednesday.
On the Marina Green near Fort Mason, Sam Hansen was among nearly 1,000 awaiting the race.
Hansen got up at 6 a.m. Wednesday to hop on a flight from Phoenix.
"I've been watching America's Cup since 1983, and I really wanted to come to San Francisco this morning,'' he said. "I just made it happen. I've been watching it on TV and just willing this boat on."
The appeal? "The best technology and the best sailors in the world coming together,'' said Hansen, sporting an America's Cup baseball cap.
A newer sailing buff, Ron Lighten, drove in from the San Joaquin Valley town of Modesto, about 1½ hours away.
"I was here earlier watching the Emirates team bully everyone on the water. I was sure they were going to win this thing,'' Lighten said. He decided to see the final race "because they'll be talking about this 100 years from now. This is history.'
"I grew up in the 'hood, and my love is football,'' Lighten said. "But now, I'm here with millionaires and enjoying sailing."
Chip Worthington, a pastor from Sonoma County's Rohnert Park, isn't a sailing buff, but the 67-year-old drove in to be part of today's event.
"This is an historic event,'' Worthington said as he raised a pair of binoculars to get a look at practice sailing runs. "There's (Team Oracle's) comeback. But it's also here in San Francisco, and you'll never find a more beautiful venue for sailing."
Chicagoan Cameron Skye Biddle, in San Francisco for Oracle's five-day conference OpenWorld corporate conference, decided he'd take a break to see the last race. After all, Ellison, Oracle's CEO, "caused a stir yesterday by not showing up to his keynote speech, and half the crowd left," Biddle said.
Biddle is an avid sailor in Chicago. "This is a big deal, especially the fact that the event is in the U.S," says the systems administrator. "Some of my sailing buddies won't believe I was here for this."
Clearly,though, the crowd was entirely behind Team Oracle.
"We're Scottish. We always go for the underdog,'' said Alan Forgan, from Cooper, Scotland.
Forgan's brother, Eric, and other family members from Warwick, England were planning to watch the race from San Francisco's famed Fisherman's Wharf.
"It's only because they have an English coach that the U. S. team is winning now, you know," said Eric Forgan. "Of course were rooting for New Zealand."
Della Cava and Weise reported from San Francisco.