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A magnificent rivalry

Australia's America's Cup challengers

Between 1962 and 1987, Australia mounted eight challenges to the America’s Cup – one of which, in 1983, was the first time in the Cup’s history that a challenger succeeded. The America’s Cup, an international sailing race, was held by the New York Yacht Club from 1857 until 1983, when the Royal Perth Yacht Club won with the 12-metre class yacht Australia II.

Within the Australian of the Year Awards, two recipients were honoured as a result of their involvement in Australia’s challenges for the ‘auld mug’: Olympian Alexander (Jock) Sturrock, skipper of Gretel – the first Australian challenger – in 1962; and in 1978, the flamboyant Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond, who headed the syndicate that mounted two unsuccessful attempts in 1974 and 1977. Bond would go on to mount a further three challenges, in 1980, 1983 and 1987, with Australia II making sailing history in 1983 by winning the ‘race of the century’ and wresting the cup from the New York Yacht Club for the first time. Although the San Diego Yacht Club won back the cup for America in 1987, the race was conducted by the Royal Perth Yacht Club off Fremantle, Western Australia, marking a new era in the history of this international race.

Both races – 1962 and 1983 – were presidentially graced. President John F. Kennedy, a keen sailor who watched the race with great interest, welcomed the American and Australian teams at the pre-race dinner. In 1983, Alan Bond and the Australia II team were congratulated by President Ronald Reagan.

In the gladiatorial contest that was the 1983 race, the Boxing Kangaroo flag and Men at Work’s international hit, ‘Down Under’, became emblematic of the Australia II team’s competitive resolve and eventual success.