America's Cup in San Francisco: Excitement on the Bay?

PHOTO: San Francisco extreme sailing competition attracts the worlds top sailors.
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During the Olympics, as fans applauded Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas or Usain Bolt, a video spoofing Olympic sailing went viral : As one-person dinghies bob about in the water, sailing haphazardly in circles and zigzags, an Irish commentator calls the race:

"Some idiots watching from the sideline…. Some madman going the wrong way completely….Go back, you're not going to win any medals that way…. Belarus, not so good on the water, questionable human rights record."

And just as the boats cross the finish line and start speeding up, the commentator realizes he's actually calling, not the finish, but the start of the race.

But the blue-blood, blue-blazered sport that many say is as exciting as watching grass grow may be changing. Think NASCAR on the water, as British journalist Bob Fisher told ABC News. Think flying, said Peter Ansell, an America's Cup Race Management official.

Here's what's happening: Starting Tuesday and running until Aug. 26 in San Francisco, the America's Cup World Series will take to the Bay, eight teams setting sail on 45-foot multi-hulls with sails attached to 70-foot-high masts. The world's best sailors, including four-time America's Cup winner Russell Coutts, will be on board. (In a spectacular capsize that hit YouTube and went viral in the sailing community, Coutts proved what a tough job sailing these boats are.

Here's some background: The America's Cup is the oldest trophy in international sport. Originally designed in 1851 as a "friendly competition among nations," the contenders are currently the U.S., Italy, Sweden, Great Britain, New Zealand, France, China and South Korea. And corporations, not nations, sponsor the boats; for a successful contender, it's estimated you need about $40 million.

Here's the major player: Oracle founder Larry Ellison, no stranger to dollar figures in the millions and billions, is the current America's Cup holder. He'll have two boats racing for Team Oracle.

Here's a wrinkle: This is not the actual America's Cup. That will be in September 2013. And because the cup is generally every four years, it's easy to lose interest and forget about it. So a World Series -- which has taken sailors to Portugal, England, Italy, and San Diego and Newport, R.I. – was created during this "cycle," to borrow a phrase from politics.

Here's the fun: They're fast. They're not even in the same league as paint drying and grass growing.

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