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Stars & Stripes Team USA has been accepted as a challenger for the 2021 America's Cup, promising to have an all-American squad in a competition where nationality has mattered little in recent decades.
The name is a nod to Dennis Conner, who won the America's Cup four times, the final two with boats named Stars & Stripes.
Stars & Stripes Team USA is the fifth challenger to be accepted by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club for the 36th America's Cup in Auckland.
It joins Challenger of Record Luna Rossa of Italy, the New York Yacht Club's American Magic, INEOS Team UK and Malta Altus Challenge in the group that will contend for the Prada Cup and the right to face Emirates Team New Zealand in the America's Cup match.
Stars & Stripes Team USA was co-founded by professional sailors Taylor Canfield, one of the world's top match-racing skippers, and Mike Buckley.
The team is backed by the Long Beach Yacht Club, which hosts the prestigious Congressional Cup match-racing regatta. Canfield has won the Congressional Cup four times in the last five years.
Canfield, 29, said the goal is to have an all-American effort, from the design team to the builders to the sailors.
"There are a lot of great sailors in this country, so there's no doubt we can put a great team together," Canfield said.
Buckley, 36, said that when he began doing research on former American challengers, he found that Conner had appeared on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated in the 1980s.
"I was absolutely stunned and I realized that what was missing was this authentic story," Buckley said. "Why hasn't that happened recently? Dennis used to have an all-American challenge. ... When we decided to do this, that was one of the driving factors. It's not about Mike or Taylor. Let's do this for American sailing and America in general, so that people get inspired."
The 167-year-old America's Cup originally was viewed as "friendly competition between foreign countries," but nationality rules have been obliterated in recent decades. Although Oracle Team USA won the America's Cup in 2010 and 2013, there were few Americans on the crew.
While the New York Yacht Club's American Magic is led by skipper Terry Hutchinson of Annapolis, Maryland, the helmsman is New Zealander Dean Barker and there are other international sailors on the crew.
Canfield said he and Buckley first started talking about doing a campaign after Emirates Team New Zealand upset Oracle Team USA in Bermuda in June 2017, ending tech billionaire Larry Ellison's grip on the Auld Mug.
Conner, whose last America's Cup victory came in 1988 with an all-American crew, declined to comment. Bill Koch won the oldest trophy in international sports in 1992 with a crew he believed to be all-American, although one sailor who was living in the United States at the time was Canadian.
"I really enjoyed having what I thought was an all-American crew," Koch said. "We bragged about it, as well. I think it gives a little more spirit to the nationality of it. If you have all Kiwis on an American team, you're not so excited about it."
Stars & Stripes Team USA gained traction in April after Canfield skippered US One Sailing Team to victory over Barker's Team American Magic in the Congressional Cup.
The Long Beach Yacht Club's first America's Cup challenge sprang from Canfield's recent dominance in the Congressional Cup, commodore Bill Durant said.
"We've always considered ourselves the road to the America's Cup," Durant said, noting that some skippers who won the America's Cup, such as Conner, Ted Turner and Bill Ficker, also won the Congressional Cup. "We're certainly going to be traveling on that road with Taylor and Mike."
The LBYC is far along in discussions to host an America's Cup World Series stop in August 2020. Long Beach itself will host sailing in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, as it did in the 1984 Games.
Buckley, who lives in New York, said the budget will be less than $100 million. Funding so far has come from a number of private sponsors the team declined to identify.
"I don't think we're too far behind in the whole process," said Canfield, who was born in New York, grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands and lives in Miami.
The team purchased a design package from Team New Zealand to jump-start its program and has begun building a boat in Michigan. Its design team is led by JD Braun of Marblehead, Massachusetts, who worked with Oracle Team USA in its 2013 and 2017 campaigns.
Buckley said more details will be announced in early 2019.
Team CEO Justin Shaffer of San Francisco came from a career as a technology and media entrepreneur, most notably with Facebook and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. COO Tod Reynolds was the managing director of the America's Cup World Series Chicago in 2016.