Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 22 News List

Connor steers victory behind scenes

BRAINS TRUST Though mainly an observer at this America's Cup challenge, Dennis Connor inspired crew members on the Stars & Stripes team to victory over Britain


Dennis Conner is mostly a backroom participant in his America's Cup campaigns these days. But even from a distance the four-time Cup winner casts a giant shadow.

Conner's Stars & Stripes team, representing the New York Yacht Club, leveled its best-of-seven quarterfinal series against Britain's GBR Challenge at 1-1 yesterday. After the race, team members thanked Conner for his inspiration.

Stars & Stripes' one minute, 17-second win offset their 1 minute loss to GBR Wednesday when they led but paid heavily for a penalty incurred during the pre-start tussle.

The New York crew came home from Thursday's race with increased confidence in their boat USA-77, which sank and was salvaged off Long Beach, California, in mid-July.

They also bore home as lingering reservations grew about their own performance and concern they were letting Conner down.

``I think certainly we're all not performing right now to the level we'd like to be,'' said tactician and occasional helmsman Terry Hutchinson.

``The past couple of rounds have probably been pretty tough on D.C. [Conner] because he's used to winning, we all are.''

Stars & Stripes qualified for the quarterfinals seventh among eight teams after winning only six of 16 races in two preliminary rounds.

Hutchinson said Conner had borne their mixed performance well, acting as a constant motivator and adviser, never judging or condemning team members.

``He's got a lot of experience at the game and so when he talks about things we can do everyone listens pretty intently because he's kinda the master of this and he's got a lot to share with us.

``I feel bad about the way we've been performing thus far. I think the sailors on the boat and in the sailing team all recognize we have to step it up a little and do a better job.

``But Dennis doesn't really put any pressure on us. He wants to see us win and so that's the pressure that we're all putting on ourselves.''

Hutchinson said Conner had never attempted to second guess the sailing team or to force the team into crew changes.

Read, who had been rumored to be under pressure to hold his place as helmsman, would continue in that role ``and we'll live and die with the guy from here in,'' Hutchinson said.

``I don't think anything that has happened in our program so far has been D.C.'s influence other than in a positive way. He's never put it to Kenny [Read] or myself or anybody that if we don't start performing we're not going to be on the boat.

``I think he's recognized he's hired us all for our jobs to do and he's allowing us to do them and when he sees fit to give his input we listen because he's won the thing a couple more times.''

Conner won the America's Cup in 1974, 1980, 1987 and 1988. He was the first American to lose the Cup, to Australia in 1983, and the first to regain it, off Fremantle, Australia, in 1987. The current Stars & Stripes campaign, Conner's first for the New York Yacht Club in 20 years, is his ninth overall.

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