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Problem: U.S. boat or Cayard?

Published Sep. 26, 2005

Once before, things looked desperate for Paul Cayard in the America's Cup challenger final, when he was down 3-1 and it seemed only a matter of time before he was counted out.

He survived that battle while skippering for Italy in 1992, and went on to beat New Zealand 5-3. But the odds that his AmericaOne can do the same to Italy's Prada this year seem longer.

Cayard is facing a race-tested group that might not have as much match-racing experience as his crew but is brilliantly prepared, makes few mistakes and gets better every outing.

But in the wake of Sunday's loss and 3-1 deficit, Cayard was mainly angry about a penalty in the final couple of minutes that gave victory to Prada. Race officials ruled AmericaOne had blocked Prada's path.

"It was a B.S. call," he said.

Many experts agreed, but also said that Cayard made two mistakes on the final leg that put him in position where he was vulnerable to penalty. And a similar mistake, when he took a reckless shot at crossing ahead of Prada under spinnaker and failed, likely cost him the third race.

Bill Koch, the millionaire who backed the America3 effort that beat Italy for the Cup in 1992, thinks Cayard is so determined to prove his superior sailing skills that he sometimes allows his ego to get in the way of good judgment. It hasn't helped that Cayard's boat has been plagued with equipment problems, blowing out eight spinnakers in 45 races and losing one race in the challenger final when the mast threatened to break.

Cayard said last week if he went down by two races, "I won't think it's over." But if he drops behind 4-1 Tuesday in the best of nine, the trophy he wanted to carry through San Francisco's Golden Gate almost surely will go to Italy or stay in New Zealand, and we'll see the first America's Cup with no Americans.

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