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Alinghi retain America’s Cup in photo finish

Alinghi owner Bertarelli kisses the coveted trophy Keystone

Alinghi have won the 32nd America's Cup, beating Team New Zealand in a thrilling race on Tuesday and retaining the Auld Mug, sailing's most prestigious prize.

Supporters of the Swiss syndicate – the third team in the history of the competition to win and defend the trophy – celebrated the victory in Spain and at home.

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey was one of the first to congratulate the Alinghi crew.

“The Swiss find their way on high seas, not only in the mountains,” she said in a telegram.

She referred to Switzerland’s geographical position as a landlocked country in the heart of Europe.

“The Alinghi team embodies a modern and multicultural Switzerland, which opens the way to the future and does not fear the winds of harsh global competition in sport, research and the economy,” she said.

The minister for sport, Samuel Schmid, joined the list of well-wishers, saying “hats off and thank you” in a statement.

He said the Alinghi victory showed the skills of the whole team, including the designers of the boat as well as the sponsors. He added the triumph would have a positive impact on Switzerland’s image abroad.

Valencia again?

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

The Geneva-based team appeared to sign the protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup with a Spanish yacht club as Alinghi sailed to victory off the coast of Valencia.

It would make the Spanish the challenger of record, raising the possibility the next cup could be in 2009 in Valencia.

Alinghi’s billionaire owner, Ernesto Bertarelli, declined to comment and said details of the next cup would be announced on Thursday.

Hair-breath win

Alinghi passed the finish line in Tuesday’s decisive match just one second ahead of challengers Team New Zealand.

In strong and steady wind off Port America’s Cup, the SUI-100 boat let a penalty advantage and big lead slip during the last leg of the race.

Alinghi sailed past the first mark with a seven-second lead. 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.

But the Kiwis incurred a right-of-way penalty trying to cross behind the Swiss before the third buoy, which required New Zealand to do a speed-killing 360-degree turn before finishing and making any chance of a win seem like a dream.

But what seemed like a sure thing for the Swiss turned into unforgettable drama for America’s Cup fans.

The Kiwis appeared to pick up first on a sudden windshift, dropping their enormous red spinnaker and quickly switching to a smaller foresail. The Swiss seemed a heartbeat behind, struggling to get their own sails changed as quickly.

But Alinghi finally got a jib up, chased for the finish line and just nosed ahead of the Kiwis.

The seventh match in the best-of-nine series saw the two boats hardly more than a length apart for most of the race, playing clever tactical games to win a few metres.

“To win at the last second, it’s unbelievable. It has done a lot for the sport. It’s got my heart,” said Bertarelli, also a member of the afterguard.

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

Exciting racing

For his part New Zealand general manager Grant Dalton put on a brave face.

“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.”

Overall the Swiss team won by five victories against just two by the Kiwis in the 32nd America’s Cup final.

Alinghi won the last four races of the series. Unfavourable weather conditions stopped the Swiss syndicate from clinching the oldest sport trophy on Sunday.

Experts say it was the most exciting regatta in 24 years when Australia II rallied for a 4-3 series win.

swissinfo with agencies

Team Alinghi 2007:

President: Ernesto Bertarelli
Skipper: Brad Butterworth
Helmsman: Ed Baird
Boat: SUI-100
Registered: Geneva Nautical Society

The inaugural race was held off the Isle of Wight in 1851. America dominated the race until 1983 when Australia won the trophy.

In 1995 New Zealand became only the third country to win the competition, successfully defending their title in 2000.

The Swiss syndicate Alinghi sailed to victory against Black Magic in 2003 and became the first European team to win the Auld Mug.

The 2007 America’s Cup – off the coast of Spain – started on June 23 and was a best-of-nine series.

Ernesto Bertarelli was born in Rome in 1965. He is married and has three children.

He came to Switzerland at the age of eight – with his brother and his two sisters – and attended private schools in Geneva.

His father Fabio Bertarelli moved the headquarters of the company Serono to Geneva in 1977.

Ernesto – who had taken on Swiss nationality in the meantime – graduated from Harvard Business School in Boston in 1993.

After his father fell ill, Ernesto took over the business at Serono in 1996. His father died two years later.

In 2001 Bertarelli launched his campaign to win the America’s Cup. His Alinghi team, which is registered with the Geneva Nautical Society, clinched the trophy from defenders Team New Zealand in 2003 in Auckland.

The Bertarelli family sold the company, Serono, to the German group Merck for more than SFr16 billion ($13.2 billion) in September 2006.

The name Alinghi was allegedly created by Ernesto Bertarelli and one of his sisters when they were children.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR