AMERICA'S CUP : Conner's Repaired Boat Wins, Then Draws a Protest


In an America's Cup episode one might expect to see on Court TV, a hearing was scheduled Tuesday involving an America 3protest of Team Dennis Conner's replacement keel, and then it was postponed at the last minute because of behind-the-scenes proceedings.

None of this had anything to do with what was happening on the water, but everything to do with what will happen . . . and to whom.

On the water, Conner's Stars & Stripes crew would have been excused for celebrating a very satisfying victory. Sailing a boat under intensive care since Sunday's near-sinking, Team Conner led wire to wire to defeat America 3's Mighty Mary by 1:31 to take a 3-2 lead in the battle to join idle PACT 95's Young America in the defender finals.

"We were fortunate to be able to pull off two victories today," said Jim Brady, Stars & Stripes' navigator. "One to the starting line and one to the finish line."

However, with Bill Koch's America 3team protesting the replacement keel, Team Conner was staring at the prospect of a hearing before an international jury known to be predictably unpredictable. It looked like it might be a long evening Tuesday before the jury announced a postponement until America 3could meet with the Defense Committee.

Paul Cayard, Stars & Stripes' skipper, seemed befuddled by the protest and ensuing controversy.

"We followed procedure and got the authorization from the Defense Committee to change the appendage," he said. "We got it remeasured, got a certificate of approval and went out and raced the race."

At about the time Stars & Stripes was crossing the finish line, Team New Zealand, the challengers' unbeaten and seemingly unbeatable leader, was announcing that it would forgo the last round of the semifinals series to prepare for the finals. Already a lock for the finals, the Kiwis will sail their last semifinal race today against oneAustralia.

"The result would be totally even-handed," said syndicate head Peter Blake, "in that each of the other three semifinalists would gain one win over Team New Zealand (via forfeit)."

This seemingly forthright explanation was woefully wrong, at least from the standpoint of the TAG Heuer Challenge's chances. TAG, New Zealand's underfunded other semifinalist, was in desperate shape after Tuesday's loss to oneAustralia.

TAG's only hope to make a Saturday race against oneAustralia a meaningful finale to the series was to either upset Team New Zealand or have winless Nippon upset oneAustralia. It now gets no shot at its countrymen, so its hopes rest with Nippon.

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