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Swiss finally get their Cup

After several delays, Alinghi finishes a sweep of Team New Zealand.

©Associated Press

March 2, 2003

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Landlocked Switzerland became the first European country to win the 152-year-old America's Cup today, a victory by a crew loaded with New Zealanders who had been branded traitors.

Skipper Russell Coutts took the cup from the country he brought it to in 1995, steering Alinghi to a five-race sweep against Team New Zealand, the two-time defending champion.

On a perfect day on the Hauraki Gulf, between Rangitoto and Tiritiri Matangi islands, Coutts again outsailed his former protege, Dean Barker, and led the entire race to end the long, bitter regatta.

Several European tycoons tried to take back the trophy the yacht America won by beating a fleet of British schooners around the Isle of Wight in 1851. The one who finally won sailing's biggest prize was Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli, 37, a biotech billionaire who scooped up the best Kiwi sailors his money could buy.

"I am a New Zealander. Make no bones about that," Coutts said during the champagne-splashed tow back to port. "But I am immensely proud of what we've achieved at Alinghi. It's been a lot of hard work for me, and as a professional sailor, frankly, I'm proud of what I've done."

Alinghi won Race 5 by 45 seconds. Coutts, 41, capped a remarkable feat by sailing unbeaten through his third straight Cup match. He has won a record 14 straight races.

Coutts and crew were flawless and unflappable through a series marred by wild weather swings and spectacular breakdowns on Team New Zealand's boat.

When the yachts converged on opposite tacks for the first time, Coutts crossed ahead and immediately tacked in front of the Kiwis, establishing control.

Team New Zealand had another mishap, this time snapping its carbon-fiber spinnaker pole after the sail wrapped around it on the downwind fourth leg.

Seven Kiwis were on Alinghi, which also included pitman Josh Belsky of Hood River, Ore., and grinder John Barnitt of Genoa, Nev.

Alinghi will be the first defender from a country that has no coastline, and will have to stage the next defense outside its borders. The Swiss will consider ports on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic for the next regatta, probably in 2007.

The San Francisco based Oracle syndicate was selected as the next America's Cup Challenger of Record, a symbolic title. The Challenger of Record helps draft rules.

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