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HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Defending champions Oracle Team USA clawed their way back into the America's Cup on Saturday with a much-needed win over Emirates Team New Zealand to reduce their deficit to 4-1 in the first-to-seven final.
The U.S. victory in the second race of the day gave the team backed by billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison hope of another comeback against New Zealand.
Oracle Team USA won the cup in 2013 in San Francisco after staging one of the most astonishing sporting comebacks against New Zealand, winning 9-8 after having been 8-1 down.
The U.S. team have spent the week working on making improvements to their 50-foot (15 metre) foiling catamaran in an effort to match the superior speed of their New Zealand rivals, who are using a revolutionary cycling system with which their sailors provide the power needed to control the boat.
"That was exactly what the boys needed …. we’ve had a good improvement on our boat speed today and I think another step tomorrow would be great," a pumped-up Jimmy Spithill, the U.S. skipper, said from onboard his boat after the race.
"We worked very very hard those five days and we sailed probably five times as much as the other guys and did a lot of work on the shore and I'd just like to see the boat go quicker," Spithill said, adding that they would be doing more overnight.
The arch-rivals are due to resume battle on Bermuda's Great Sound on Sunday, with another two races scheduled. The U.S. win means the racing will now go into Monday or beyond.
"It was great to see those boys actually sailing a little bit better … these guys just sailed well and we’re just excited about the battle ahead," New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling said following the rare defeat.
After five days with no racing, both crews have been working to improve the performance of their space-age catamarans, with the pressure on the U.S. crew and their extensive design and technical team to pull something out of the hat.
Things started badly on Saturday for the U.S. as they were fraction of a second over the line at the start of the first race, picking up a penalty which left them trailing.
But although the New Zealanders got away, the U.S. champions recovered well and fought their way back into the race, finding the speed which had evaded them in previous encounters.
At one stage comeback specialist Spithill managed to get a lead over Burling, but he was out-duelled and infringed the Kiwi "cat", incurring another penalty and allowing them to fly into the line on their space-age catamaran in front of a packed grandstand in Bermuda's purpose-built America's Cup Village.
But in the second race there were no such errors and Spithill, who was wearing a bandage on his wrist after injuring it during a hard week's training, got away at the start.
Burling and his crew fought hard to get back into the race and at one stage got a lead, only to be overtaken and ultimately left trailing in the wake of the U.S. boat as it screamed into the finish, to loud cheers from many Bermudan supporters.
Editing by Ed Osmond