SPORTS’ LONGEST WINNING STREAK COMES TO AN END
The 1983 America’s Cup was the occasion of the first winning challenge to the New York Yacht Club, which had successfully defended the cup over a period of 132 years. An Australian syndicate representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club fielded the Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand against defender Liberty, skippered by Dennis Conner, won the match races to win the America’s Cup, ending the longest winning streak in sporting history and ending U.S. domination of the racing series.
The final race was televised in Australia in the early hours just before dawn, and the victory was celebrated in public venues across Australia. Prime Minister Bob Hawke was interviewed at the dawn celebration in Claremont, Western Australia, and said, “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum”.
For New England sporting fans who were all too familiar with fall collapses, the loss was an epic choke. Conner, who had won the America’s Cup in 1974 and 1980, led the best of seven series 3-1 and led late in the final race. Often the leading boat will match any move by the challenger to make sure it gets the same wind, but Conner did not thereby allowing Australia II to surge ahead.
The defeat did bring renewed interest in the sport and Conner redeemed himself by leading a successful challenge when the races resumed in 1987, but then cemented his infamy in New England (and Newport especially where the main road is “America’s Cup Blvd”) by bringing the America’s Cup to his hometown of San Diego.
As a Rhode Islander, my view of Conner is that he makes Bill Buckner look like Bobby Orr in comparison.