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Rare repeat: Swiss defeat Kiwis for America's Cup

7/3/2007

VALENCIA, Spain -- The landlocked Swiss are masters of the
ocean.

Once again.

The Alinghi team from Switzerland -- a country more often
associated with Alpine skiing and winter snowscapes -- successfully
defended the coveted America's Cup on Tuesday, beating Emirates
Team New Zealand 5-2.

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey congratulated the team,
sending a telegram that read: "We Swiss find our way at sea, not
just in the mountains."

The finish in the seventh race of the 32nd America's Cup was so
close that fans on both sides were beside themselves with joy, each
believing their team had won.

Alinghi won by one second, allowing the Swiss to beat New
Zealand in the first-to-five wins rematch that was four years in
the making.

"Aside from the birth of my children, [today] is the best day
of my life," Alinghi owner Ernesto Bertarelli said.

Alinghi took the Auld Mug trophy away from the sailing-proud
Kiwis by beating them 5-0 off Auckland in 2003, and brought it to
Europe for the first time in its more than 150-year history.

Bertarelli was the only Swiss aboard the winning boat. Born in
Italy, the biotech billionaire with an MBA from Harvard put
together a winning team made up of six Kiwis, three Americans, two
Italians, and one each from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and
Spain.

Bertarelli's formula was to set up a smooth, corporate-style
team drawing on the world's best talent. Bertarelli even compared
the team to the nation of Switzerland, in the center of Europe.

"We had to be open to other cultures," he said. "We grow
bigger through diversity."

That diversity upset a lot of Kiwi fans because many of
Alinghi's sailors came from New Zealand.

Alinghi hired six of the key sailors in the Kiwis' 2000 defense
of the cup, including Russell Coutts, who left in 2004, and current
skipper Brad Butterworth.

New Zealand fans were outraged, sending hate mail and death
threats to Alinghi, and even setting up a group called BlackHeart
to jeer Kiwis who sailed for the "enemy."

The team from the Alps also attracted gentler teasing.

"People were laughing at us with our leather shorts, edelweiss,
cheese, chocolate and cuckoo clocks," Bertarelli said about the
early days.

Bertarelli said he hopes to turn sailing into a sport that can
be self-sustaining through sponsorship, rather than remaining the
domain of rich enthusiasts.

It seemed Alinghi's boat, SUI100, was in danger of sinking when
it arrived at the victory dock with at least three times its normal
crew of 17 aboard.

The 80-foot carbon fiber yacht glided through a red carpet-like
belt of red confetti to reach the prize podium, where the team
hopped onto a real red carpet.

Bertarelli was carried to the podium by his crew, where he
hoisted the coveted cup over his head and kissed it. That was only
after Butterworth, now a four-time cup winner, put an Alinghi
baseball cap on top of the 156-year-old trophy.

After 5-0 sweeps in the previous three finals, the races this
year were close throughout.

Alinghi sailed past the first mark with a seven-second lead
Tuesday. The Swiss stayed ahead by 14 seconds around the second
buoy, while the Kiwis gained two seconds to make it a 12-second
lead by Alinghi going into the final leg.

After incurring a right-of-way penalty trying to cross behind
the Swiss before the third buoy, the Kiwis rallied and appeared to
take a brief lead. At the end, though, Alinghi barely won out.

"Just not enough has been the theme," said Terry Hutchinson,
tactician aboard the Kiwi boat.