HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND – Sweden’s Team Artemis completed its remarkable comeback to eliminate SoftBank Team Japan from the America’s Cup Challenger semifinal series on Friday and set up a showdown with Emirates Team New Zealand.
The Swedes, who at one point had trailed 3-1 to the Japanese in the best-of-nine series, produced a superb display on Bermuda’s Great Sound to clinch a 5-3 victory.
Artemis, skippered by Nathan Outteridge, will now battle it out against the New Zealand challenge to decide which team will advance to face defending champion Oracle Team USA.
“We’re absolutely stoked,” Outteridge said shortly after clinching the win.
“That was a tough race and to come back from 3-1 down — the boys really dug deep.
“It didn’t go all our way today but we’re really happy to take that through to the next round. Full credit to the guys. We’re going to be ready to go tomorrow.”
Crucially, Outteridge and Artemis appear to have built momentum at the business end of the competition, and the 31-year-old 2012 Olympic gold medalist promised no let up against New Zealand.
“It’s been an up-and-down road but it’s nice to be hitting a bit of form,” Outteridge said.
“The racing yesterday was super tight and today was no exception as well. I think if we can just keep the momentum going that will be our best chance moving forward. The confidence in the boat is just growing every day. If we can keep pushing the boat to its limit there’s going to be some incredible racing.”
But it was another crushing disappointment for SoftBank skipper Dean Barker who was left reflecting on another blown America’s Cup lead.
The Kiwi had been skipper of the New Zealand challenge in the 2013 America’s Cup, when his team blew an 8-1 lead to be pipped 9-8 by Oracle Team USA in San Francisco.
SoftBank’s hopes were dealt a blow shortly before Friday’s race, when its boat struck an unidentified object in the water. With not enough time to get the boat back to dock for an inspection, divers had to check on the boat in the water.
Barker said although no evidence of damage was detected, the time spent assessing the wings had disrupted the vital period usually spent gauging the conditions just before the race.
“We were definitely a bit under-prepared for those conditions,” Barker said.
The vessel, however, took its place on the start line and appeared to have shrugged off the setback after getting off to a flier.
The Japanese were swiftly up onto their foils and pulled clear of Artemis on the first leg.
But Artemis and Outteridge were soon hunting them down, and the Swedes seized control when Outteridge’s overtaking maneuver allowed them to pull clear on the third leg after Japan tacked poorly.
“Once they got in front it was always going to be hard to claw it back,” said Barker, who said he hoped the SoftBank Team would return to challenge in the next America’s Cup.
“I hope this team does have a future. It’s been nice to have Japan back in the America’s Cup,” Barker said, declining to commit his own future.
“I’ve always said I love racing and I’d like to keep racing. If there is an opportunity then I will but we just have to wait and see what the future holds.”