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Alinghi joins America's Cup elite

  • Story Highlights
  • Alinghi wins a photo finish over Team New Zealand to retain America's Cup
  • Only the third yacht in history to retain the 156-year-old trophy
  • Skipper Brad Butterworth guides the Swiss boat to a 5-2 series win
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VALENCIA, Spain -- Alinghi won the 32nd America's Cup on Tuesday, beating Team New Zealand by one second in a thrilling seventh race to take the series 5-2.

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Alinghi become only the third yacht after the U.S. and New Zealand to retain the 156-year-old America's Cup.

The Swiss syndicate become the first European team to defend the Cup, their crew cheering with relief having almost lost the race when their spinnaker pole snapped off the mast.

As Alinghi fans rang cowbells out on the water, the Kiwi crew sat with their heads bowed, hardly speaking to each other.

"I love this team," said Alinghi president and afterguard member Ernesto Bertarelli.

"This is a fantastic day for Alinghi, to win the America's Cup again after four years of hard work," added Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth.

"The crew, the designers and the shore team have done an incredible job throughout the series, we have fought hard against a strong challenger and have won. We'll be celebrating tonight."

Alinghi joins Team Dennis Conner and Team New Zealand as the only crews in Cup history to win as a Challenger and Defender.

In the closest and most enthralling series for years, Team New Zealand had fought doggedly to win back sailing's most prestigious prize, which they lost to Alinghi 5-0 in 2003.

Tuesday's race was a heart-stopping end to the best-of-nine series with the boats hardly more than a boat length apart for most of the race, playing clever tactical games to win a few metres of advantage.

The turning point came at the top of the second upwind leg when Team New Zealand got enough advantage to "dial down", turning downwind and attacking Alinghi nose on.

Alinghi had to swerve to miss them and the umpires slapped New Zealand with a penalty.

Coming back downwind, Alinghi had more problems with their gybes and suddenly the pole that holds out the bottom corner of the spinnaker jumped off the mast, the kite went flying off in the wind and the 24-metre yacht came to a halt.

New Zealand swept past the stalled Swiss boat and did a double tack to pay their penalty. Alinghi finally got a jib up and started chasing for the finish line, caught up with the Kiwis and just got ahead.

"It was obviously pretty close but all credit to Alinghi. They sailed well, kept it close, kept on sailing the way they do and beat us fair and square," said New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton.

Alinghi, who brought the Cup to Europe for the first time since the initial race in 1851, now have the right to organize the next event where, when and how they want.

Many Cup followers expect the Geneva-based team to choose a new Spanish yacht club as the challenger of record with whom they will set the rules of the next edition.

That raises the possibility the 33rd America's Cup will be in 2009 in Valencia.

This time as defender, Alinghi had to fight challengers who disliked changes they made to the 32nd America's Cup and then sit on the sidelines practising alone while Team New Zealand strengthened through the challenger rounds.

Alinghi came out a bit rusty at the start and had to fight much harder than they did in Auckland in 2003 when they romped home 5-0.

"If I had to pick one (as my favorite) it would be this one," said Bertarelli. "It was close and it was harder.

"When you have to fight it the way we fought it and pull deep into the team, into each individual who has been with us over the last four years, it makes it a more fulfilling and stronger victory.

"It's been a real lesson in life, one of the hardest things I've ever done. Today is probably, beside the birth of my kids, the best day of my life," said the 41-year-old billionaire.

As well as nail-biting battles on the water, Alinghi had its own struggle to pull together after Russell Coutts, who skippered them to victory in 2003, was sacked the next year over differences with Bertarelli.

"Russell is a great sailor and sailing with him has to be one of the greatest memories ever ... but this time it was a victory of a team," Bertarelli said.

"It has really been an unbelievable experience in team building, to work with unbelievable people, through highs and lows, and we have had a lot of them."

After Coutts left, Bertarelli handed the job of skipper to Butterworth, who had sailed with Coutts and four other Kiwis in New Zealand's 1995 and 2000 America's Cup victories.

Butterworth, who won his fourth consecutive America's Cup on Tuesday, said this victory was his favorite. "The strength in our sailing team has been fantastic," he said.

"There was another good team out there that was equal or close to it so to win again shows the strength of our crew and I find it incredibly fulfilling." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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