Rare repeat: Swiss defeat Kiwis for America's Cup

Updated: July 3, 2007, 5:44 PM ET
Associated Press

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

Once again.

Swiss Alinghi
Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty ImagesAlinghi (bottom) finished first ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand by just one second.

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.

2007 America's Cup

At Valencia, Spain

Flight 1
Alinghi, Switzerland, def. Emirates Team New Zealand, New Zealand, by 35 seconds

Flight 2
Emirates Team New Zealand, def. Alinghi, by 28 seconds

Flight 3
Emirates Team New Zealand def. Alinghi, by 25 seconds.

Flight 4
Alinghi def. Emirates Team New Zealand, by 30 seconds.

Flight 5
Alinghi def. Emirates Team New Zealand, by 19 seconds.

Flight 6
Alinghi def. Emirates Team New Zealand, by 28 seconds.

Flight 7
Alinghi def. Emirates Team New Zealand, by 1 second, wins 5-2.

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.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press