Monday, February 08, 2010

BMW/O to Win the Cup!

Valencia, Spain -- Software tycoon Larry Ellison isn't accustomed to losing.

He outgunned his corporate rivals for 30 years to become the world's fourth-richest man and king of database technology. He won the hand of a celebrated romance novelist and built a 23-acre Japanese-inspired paradise in Woodside.

The only prize that's apparently eluded the Bay Area billionaire is the America's Cup, a silver ewer that's sailing's most coveted prize.

Today, Ellison, 66, the chief executive of Oracle Corp., takes his third stab at winning international sports' oldest trophy - this time in an extreme sailing event in wintry waters off the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

The high-stakes grudge match between Ellison's BMW Oracle Racing syndicate and the current cup holder, the Swiss Alinghi team bankrolled by pharmaceutical heir Ernesto Bertarelli, will be sailed in the two fastest boats that have ever raced in the America's Cup. The best-of-three series on a 40-mile-long racecourse will determine the next cup holder.

"I don't like him. I won't beat around the bush," Ellison told The Chronicle. "If I was going to be nasty, I'd say, what has he done in his life that he's proud of?"

"I came here determined to shake his hand," Bertarelli, 45, said at a news conference Saturday that Ellison declined to attend. "Here I am, available, and he is not here."

For many sports fans, the notion of watching a sailboat race is about as thrilling as watching grass grow. But this year's showdown could be one of the most exciting matchups in the cup's nearly 160-year history. It is being broadcast live in Europe and streamed on the Internet.

The teams will race in giant, lightweight, high-tech multihulls that are screamingly fast, incredibly fragile and so dangerously prone to capsize that their crews wear helmets. In November, the $10 million towering mast on Ellison's 114-foot trimaran came tumbling down on its carbon fiber deck during sea trials off San Diego.

Bertarelli, an avid yachtsman, is the helmsman of his catamaran. Ellison, who has won pro and amateur regattas, said he'll serve as a tactician and strategist on his boat. Depending on wind strength, his trimaran will carry a crew of 12 to 20 sailors.

The 33rd America's Cup has drawn hundreds of journalists and the jet-set glitterati to Valencia. The port city staged a shock-and-awe fireworks display Sunday night in honor of a yacht racing tradition that began in 1851 when the schooner America beat a fleet of British vessels around the Isle of Wight.

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