AMERICA'S CUP : Conner's Boat Wins Close One


Mighty Mary did not finish. At least, that's what it said on the scorecard. Rarely has a final "score" been more deceiving.

Indeed, Mighty Mary did not win, but it crossed the finish line a mere eight seconds behind Stars & Stripes on Friday in the most significant and dramatic race of the America's Cup semifinals.

Significant? Team Dennis Conner would have been in peril had it suffered its third defeat in the defender semifinals.

Dramatic? Stars & Stripes trailed by 13 seconds going into the last downwind leg, but jibed to the inside of Mighty Mary just past the halfway mark and broke through on what was the 11th and last lead change of the race. Mighty Mary battled tenaciously, ultimately drawing a penalty for impeding Stars & Stripes' progress. It got the DNF because it never negotiated the 270-degree turn mandated by the penalty.

Curiously, America 3protested the race because Stars & Stripes' 17th man, an unidentified San Diego port commissioner, took pictures from the rear of the boat. America 3protested that the photography was against the rules.

"He was taking his commemorative pictures," Stars & Stripes skipper Paul Cayard said. "This is obviously a last-ditch effort to turn the cards a little bit."

Cayard was not taking the protest seriously, especially because the America 3boat officially did not finish the race and thus could not benefit in the unlikely event that the protest was upheld.

Stars & Stripes and Mighty Mary have split their two semifinal matches with two more meetings remaining. More important, Team Dennis Conner is ahead on points, 2-1, in the competition to see who faces PACT's Young America in the final. Mighty Mary sails against Young America today.

On the challenger course, the final pairing is taking shape. Team New Zealand, 26-1 overall, and TAG Heuer Challenge both won Friday and seem destined to face each other in an all-New Zealand final.

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