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Alinghi grabs 2-0 lead

The Swiss boat rallies on the final downwind leg to beat New Zealand.

©Associated Press
February 16, 2003

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Alinghi of Switzerland passed Team New Zealand on the downwind run to the finish and held on for the win and a 2-0 lead in the America's Cup today.

New Zealand-born skipper Russell Coutts steered Alinghi to a 7-second victory that put his crew within three victories of taking the America's Cup to Europe for the first time in 152 years.

It was a painful defeat for two-time defending champion Team New Zealand, which seemed to be in control after Saturday's opening-race disaster, when its boat practically fell apart and forced the Kiwis to drop out 25 minutes after the start.

Team New Zealand led by 26 seconds as the boats rounded the fifth mark and headed down the final 3.25-nautical mile leg on the Hauraki Gulf.

After Alinghi crossed the finish line about one boat length ahead, Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker slumped against the steering wheel in disappointment in the late-afternoon shadows.

Coutts extended his record to 11 straight America's Cup victories. The first nine wins came when he led Team New Zealand to five-race sweeps in 1995 and 2000. He handed the wheel to Barker for the clinching race in 2000.

Race 3 in the best-of-nine series is scheduled Tuesday.

The Kiwis had sped past the Swiss on the downwind second leg, and the Swiss pulled the same move for the stunning comeback.

As the boats sailed under asymmetrical spinnakers practically across the wind toward the left side of the course, Alinghi fouled the Kiwis' air and were able to sail over the top of them.

When the boats turned back to the right, the Swiss were in the controlling position and held it into the finish line.

After Saturday's disappointing breakdown, NZL-82 was repaired overnight after the end of its boom broke and its jib blew out twice.

Sunday's race was delayed for more than two hours while the committee waited for the breeze to build, and there was a further delay because a portion of the huge spectator fleet had drifted onto the course.

The wind was 10 knots at the start, much tamer than Saturday's conditions.

Alinghi rounded the first mark with a 12-second lead, but it wasn't long before the Kiwis rolled past.

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