It all began in 1851 when the schooner America, representing the New York Yacht Club, won the 100 Guinea Cup that was held off the southeast coast of England and the Isle of Wight.
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Can an Australian lead USA to victory?
Australian America's Cup skipper for Oracle Team USA James Spithill has pulled the team back and it's now neck-and-neck against New Zealand.
The victory symbolised the changing of maritime power from the old to the new world. On its return to America, the syndicate donated the trophy to the New York Yacht Club with the decree that it be awarded to the winners of a "perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between nations". From then it would be known as the America's Cup.
The series has gone through various incarnations since the first challenge by Englishman James Ashbury in 1870, with a challenger series introduced for the first time to decide the boat that would go on to face the defending yacht club.
Australia II in 1983 became the first boat to beat the Americans in 132 years, winning the series 4-3. The trophy did not stay in Australia long, however. Dennis Conner regained it for the Americans with Stars and Stripes in 1987.
The series then became bogged down in legal challenges as New Zealand forced San Diego Yacht Club to defend the trophy in 1988. A farcical series eventuated in which two different styles of boats raced each other – the Conner-led American syndicate using a catamaran to embarrass the New Zealanders, who had shown up with a mono-hulled 27-metre-long boat.
In the years since, the Cup has shifted between New Zealand, Europe (with the Swiss-backed Alinghi syndicate defending the trophy in Valencia, Spain) and America.
The boating classifications have changed over the years from the original schooners, to the J-Class boats (1930-1939), to the 12-metre class introduced in 1958 when the series restarted after World War II, to various styles of catamarans culminating in the high-octane AC-72's, which can reach remarkable speeds on the San Francisco Bay course.
With wing sails and hydrofoils, AC-72 catamarans are designed for speed, but their complexity and cost – team budgets are about $100 million – have deterred contenders.
There was also a concern about their safety when in May 2013, Sweden's boat capsized in San Francisco Bay and a crew member died.
A sporting legend worthy of then-prime minister Bob Hawke all but declaring a public holiday was created in 1983 when Australia II and its mysterious winged keel, skippered by John Bertrand, designed by Ben Lexcen and funded by Alan Bond, became the first boat to prise the America's Cup from the New York Yacht Club in 132 years.
The Australians fell behind Liberty 1-3 in the series before rallying and then winning a thrilling deciding race when they claimed the lead on the final spinnaker run and held off a series of desperate challenges over the final minutes.
The 2013 series will come down to a dramatic final race on Thursday (AEST) on a five-leg course around San Francisco Bay. Team New Zealand has for the past week been marooned just one win from claiming the mug as its 7-1 lead has been steadily whittled away by the Americans.
Now the series is levelled at eight-all, although Team America, skippered by Australian Jimmy Spithill, has actually won two more races. (It was handed a two-point penalty for illegally modifying its boat during the warm-up regattas.)
To add to the drama, Team NZ was denied the chance to seize the Cup when race 13 was abandoned with it well ahead in light wind. In the resailed race, Team New Zealand began their winning streak.
1870 Magic (US) def Cambria (England) 1-0
1871 Columbia (US) def Livonia (England) 4-1
1876 Madeline (US) def Countess of Dufferin (Canada) 2-0
1881 Mischief (US) def Atalanta (Canada) 4-1
1885 Puritan (US) def Genesta (Britain) 2-0
1886 Mayflower (US) def Galatea (Britain) 2-0
1887 Volunteer (US) def Thistle (Scotland) 2-0
1893 Vigilant (US) def Valkyrie II (Britain) 3-0
1895 Defender (US) def Valkyrie III (Britain) 3-0
1899 Columbia (US) def Shamrock (Ireland) 3-0
1901 Columbia (US) def Shamrock II (Ireland) 3-0
1903 Reliance (US) def Shamrock III (Ireland) 3-0
1920 Resolute (US) def Shamrock IV (Ireland) 3-2
1930 Enterprise (US) def Shamrock V (Ireland) 4-0
1934 Rainbow (US) def Endeavour (Britain) 4-2
1937 Ranger (US) def Endeavour II (Britain) 4-0
1958 Columbia (US) def Sceptre (Britain) 3-1
1962 Weatherly (US) def Gretel (Australia) 4-1
1964 Constellation (US) def Sovereign (Britain) 4-0
1967 Intrepid (US) def Dame Pattie (Australia) 4-0
1970 Intrepid (US) def Gretel II (Australia) 4-1
1974 Courageous (US) def Southern Cross (Australia) 4-0
1977 Courageous (US) def Australia (Australia) 4-0
1980 Freedom (US) def Australia (Australia) 4-1
1983 Australia II (Australia) def Liberty (US) 4-3
1987 Stars and Stripes (US) def Kookaburra III (Australia), 4-0
1988 Stars & Stripes (US) def New Zealand (New Zealand) 2-0
1992 America 3 (US) def Il Moro di Venezia (Italy) 4-1
1995 Team New Zealand (New Zealand) def Young America (US) 5-0
2000 Team New Zealand (New Zealand) def Luna Rossa (Italy) 5-0
2003 Alinghi (Switzerland) def Team New Zealand (New Zealand) 5-0
2007 Alinghi (Switzerland) def Team New Zealand (New Zealand) 5-2
2010 Team US (America) def Alinghi (Switzerland) 2-0