It is much more than a nickname. It is a statement of truth.
Conner not only brought sailing’s premier event to San Diego, he brought what was once a niche event into the national spotlight.
Conner’s is a story of extreme highs and one historic low.
He skippered four boats to victory in the America’s Cup. But he was also the first American skipper to lose the America’s Cup in 1983 – ending a string of United States victories that extended back 132 years.
From the ruin of that 1983 defeat, Conner built a program and assembled a team that produced one of the greatest triumphs in United States’ sports history – Stars & Stripes victory in the 1987 America’s Cup off Fremantle, Western Australia.
The 1987 America’s Cup was also the first to be televised with the strong winds and steep seas off Fremantle adding to the drama. The combination of the event, the conditions and the timing – ESPN carried the races in primetime in San Diego while viewers on the East Coast stayed up into early morning – turned Conner into a national figure.
Conner’s victory in 1987 earned him a trip to the White House, a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a cover on Time Magazine.
“If I hadn’t lost the America’s Cup in 1983, there never would have been the national effort to get it back,” Conner said after his victory in 1987.
A San Diego native and a graduate of Point Loma High and San Diego State, Conner was already an accomplished skipper before he arrived at the 1974 America’s Cup as a 32-year-old phenom.
The 1974 season saw Conner go from Ted Turner’s trial horse skipper to replacing Turner at the helm of Mariner to moving aboard ultimate defender Courageous at the end of the defender trials. Although Ted Hood remained the official skipper of Courageous, Conner drove the 12 meter to victory.
After passing on the 1977 America’s Cup to complete a record-setting run en route to the Star Worlds title, Conner successfully defended the America’s Cup in 1980 with the 12 meter Freedom only to lose in 1983 to the wing-keeled Australia II.
“As difficult as the 1983 loss was, it re-energized Dennis and got him to focus on a bigger picture,” said San Diego civic leader and long-time Conner backer Malin Burnham. “He saw exactly what it would take to reclaim the America’s Cup and went after it as a San Diegan.”
Conner’s “full-court press” Stars & Stripes campaign became the blueprint for future America’s Cup campaigns by foreign and U.S. teams alike.
“He hit us on all fronts,” said Iain Murray, whose Australian defender was swept by Conner’s Stars & Stripes in the America’s Cup finals. “His design was better, his team was better his plan was better. He buried the challengers then turned all that preparation and planning on us.”
Dennis Conner file
Born: Sept. 16, 1942; San Diego
San Diego impactConner was already a national figure in sailing when his victory off Western Australia in 1987 brought the America’s Cup to San Diego. San Diego hosted three America’s Cups in 1988, 1992 and 1995. Conner won his record fourth America’s Cup as a skipper in 1988 with the Stars & Stripes catamaran.
Achievements: Conner was a founding inductee into the U.S. Sailing Hall of Fame. He is a three-time U.S. Yachtsman of the Year (1975, 1980, 1986) and a seven-time winner of the San Diego Yachtsman of the Year award. In addition to winning four America’s Cups (1974, 1980, 1987 and 1988), Conner has won two dozen other world championships. Included in that total are two Star Worlds titles (he was the first skipper ever to win the prestigious event with a perfect score in 1977), two Congressional Cup match racing championships, four Southern Ocean Racing Conference titles and six Etchells Worlds championships. He won a bronze medal in the 1976 Olympics in the Tempest class. Conner also skippered two boats in the Whitbread Round-The-Word race.
Did you know? San Diegans Conner and Lowell North were founding inductees into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011. Mark Reynolds became the third San Diegan inducted in 2012.