16 September 1942 |
San Diego, California
Dennis Conner (born September 16, 1942) is an American yachtsman, known as "Mr. America's Cup". He is noted for winning the bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics, two Star World Championships, and four wins in the America's Cup.
Conner has won the America's Cup four times, successfully defending the Cup in 1974, 1980, and 1988 and winning as the challenger in 1987. He was helmsman of the first defender to be defeated in the 132 year history of the cup, also ending 132 years of successful defense by the New York Yacht Club with their loss in 1983 to Alan Bond's wing-keeled challenger Australia II 4 races to 3. Following the loss Conner formed his own syndicate, the Sail America Foundation, through which he raised funds to mount a challenge. Representing the San Diego Yacht Club, he embarked upon a three year campaign, which culminated in his winning the Cup back from Australia in 1987. Said Ben Lexcen, designer of Australia II, following Conner's 1987 win: "...the big thing is, even when we did win, we were using a rifle against a club and Dennis Conner still almost beat us. It's our sunburned minds. We need more Crocodile Dundees down here. We really do."
The Big Boat Challenge and the beginning of multihulls in America's Cup
After taking The Cup back to American soil, this time for the San Diego Yacht Club (SDYC) in 1987, Conner defeated the controversial "Big Boat Challenge" of New Zealand banker Michael Fay. Fay's team challenged with a 90' super-sloop (KZ1). Conner's SDYC responded with a 60' wing-sailed catamaran, US-1, designed by Morrelli, Chance & Hubbart & MacLane in a surprise defense. Fay's challenge and legal case based on the Deed foreshadowed the controversial 33rd America's Cup, whose legal wrangling resulted in the contest being decided in enormous multihulls in February 2010, while returning to the pre-war style of exclusive, billionaire backed campaigns of Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing.
Leadership and management
From 1987 through to 2003, Conner was skipper of the celebrated Stars & Stripes yachts. Within the yachting community, Conner is most famous for fundamentally changing the America's Cup, and racing in general, from an amateur to professional status. These accomplishments led to the nickname "Mister America's Cup".
Before the 1980s, America's Cup competitors were mostly amateurs who took time off to compete. Conner insisted on year round training with a new focus on physical fitness and practice. This change in approach led to a return to professional crews in sailing, which had hardly been seen since the 1930s.
Funding and setbacks
Perhaps due to the bad media attention surrounding the 1988 catamaran defense, Conner had insufficient funding to mount his signature multiple-boat defense in 1992, which also heralded the debut of the IACC yacht. His USA-11 proved no match to Bill Koch's America3 campaign. USA-11 was built as a test-bed for design ideas that were to be incorporated into the "racing" boat, nicknamed TDC-2. However, TDC-2 was never built. Its ideas were incorporated into his single-boat campaign for 1995, and the yacht Stars & Stripes USA-34. After almost sinking during The Citizen Cup defender trials, USA-34 went on to an improbable come-from-behind win over Mighty Mary, earning the right to defend The Cup against Team New Zealand's Black Magic, NZL-32. Believing Stars & Stripes is no match against the Black Magic, Dennis Conner swapped boats for the Cup matches, taking the helm of Young America against New Zealand's Black Magic NZL-32. But the result was a humiliating defeat for Dennis Conner, losing to Team New Zealand 0-5.
Conner again found difficulty securing funding for the 2000 America's Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. As in 1992 and 1995, he mounted a single-boat campaign centered upon Stars & Stripes USA-55. Conner was eliminated in the quarter final repechage by Craig McCaw's OneWorld Challenge.
Conner was a rare non-billionaire fielding a team to compete in the 2003 America's Cup, held in New Zealand, receiving funding of up to US$40 million from his sponsors. His syndicate, Stars & Stripes, suffered a severe setback before they departed California when one of the two Stars & Stripes boats (USA-77) sank when its rudder post failed during training. Raised from 55 feet of water and eventually repaired, they were unable to recover the valuable testing time lost and they were defeated in the quarter-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
2003 marked Conner's last participation in the America's Cup.
- 4-time winner, America's Cup Race, 1974, 1980, 1987 and 1988
- Inductee, America's Cup Hall of Fame
- Captain, two Whitbread Round-the-World races (see Volvo Ocean Race)
- 28 World Championships
- Three-time winner, U.S. Yachtsman of the Year: 1975, 1980, 1986
- Seven-time winner, San Diego Yachtsman of the Year
- Olympic Bronze Medal winner, 1976
- 4 Southern Ocean Racing Cups
- 2 Congressional Cups
- 1987 ABC Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year
- U.S. Sailing Hall of Fame
- Maxi yacht racing, including Condor
Honors and activities
- America's Greatest Sailor, US Sailing's Greatest American Sailor Tournament
- Commencement Speaker, United States Naval Academy
- Cover, Time Magazine, February 9, 1987 
- Cover Sports Illustrated with President Ronald Reagan, February 1987 
- Artist, Sales of artwork in the several millions of dollars
- Motivational Speaker
- Member of the San Diego Yacht Club, (Silvergate Yacht Club), New York Yacht Club, Yacht Club de Monaco in Monaco
- San Diego Rotary
- Honorary Doctorate from Green Mountain College, 1987
- Honorary Doctorate from the Medical College of the University of South Carolina, 1987
- Bachelor's degree from San Diego State University
- No Excuse to Lose, 1987
- Comeback: My Race for the America's Cup, 1987
- The Art of Winning, 1990
- Sail Like a Champion, 1992
- America's Cup Cookbook, 1992
- Life's Winning Tips, 1997
- The America's Cup: The History of Sailings Greatest Competition in the Twentieth Century, 1998
- Learn to Sail: A Beginner's Guide to the Art, Equipment and Language of Sailing on a Lake or Ocean, 1998
- Dave Anderson (May 5, 1988). "Yachting's Crocodile Dundee". The New York Times.
- Rich Roberts (February 12, 2008). "Think this is ugly? You should have seen 1988". Scuttlebutt News.
- "America's Cup Multihull Battle Set For February 2010". The International Sailing Federation. May 14, 2009.