Switzerland's Alinghi team is through to the America's Cup after winning five races in the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup.This content was published on January 19, 2003 - 06:16
Alinghi swept past the United States' Oracle team, and will now face the defending champions, Team New Zealand, for sailing's ultimate prize.
The winning team, which is backed by the Swiss biotechnology billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, beat Oracle in their final race off the Auckland coast by two minutes and 34 seconds.
The win gave Alinghi a 5-1 victory in the best-of-nine series on the Hauraki Gulf course, which was crammed with hundreds of spectator boats.
Alinghi crossed the finish line less than ten seconds ahead of Oracle, but the victory margin increased when the US team had to discharge its pre-start penalty at the finish.
While the Oracle crew sailed the penalty turn, the Swiss crew had already started celebrating, spraying champagne at each other within minutes of crossing the line.
The US boat was penalised before the start on Sunday for not keeping clear during pre-start manoeuvres, almost causing the yachts to collide.
Alinghi's victory, the first for a Swiss team, marks the second time in a row that the US will not be represented in the America's Cup - it is also only the second time in the 152-year-history of the race.
If the Swiss boat goes on to triumph against Team New Zealand, it will be the first time in the competition's history that it has been won by a landlocked nation.
Bertarelli was overjoyed at the result, but was already thinking ahead to the America's Cup.
"I have a feeling of joy and sense of achievment," said Bertarelli, after the race.
"I think it'll take some time before we fully realize the importance of such an event, and especially the impact of having a Swiss boat in this prestigious competition," he added.
The sailors can only expect a short rest before the preparations for the America's Cup begin in earnest.
Alinghi's skipper, the New Zealander and former America's Cup winner, Russell Coutts, is already thinking ahead.
"I'm satisfied and proud about what the team has achieved, but we've still got a lot of work ahead of us," he said.
"This victory has reminded me just how good it is to win and this feeling will be even better if we win the America's Cup."
One lost race
Alinghi has lost just one race since the opening round, beating Italy's Prada 4-0 in the quarter-finals and then Oracle by the same margin, when the two teams met in the semi-finals.
The Louis Vuitton Cup started on October 1, with nine teams vying for the right to race against Team New Zealand.
The Swiss syndicate will meet the America's Cup defenders on February 15 for the 31st edition of the race.
Lori Schupbach, editor-in-chief of the Swiss sailing magazine Swiss Boat Yachting, said he was making no bets on the outcome. But he believes the Swiss team stands a good chance.
"As Team New Zealand has not had to race so far, we don't know how well it is prepared," he told swissinfo. "But I think the chances [for Alinghi] are very good as the level of competition between Alinghi and Oracle has already been very high."
The Alinghi team consists of 31 sailors, but only nine are Swiss. For Schupbach, however, this doesn't mean the team is not "Swiss".
"The whole crew of the Alinghi consists of about 65 people who got the boat ready for the Louis Vuitton Cup for about two years. There is a lot of Swiss technology and, of course, a lot of Swiss money involved," he said.
Critics have also described the America's Cup as a playground for the rich, but Schupbach believes that sailing itself does not necessarily require a lot of money.
"If you want to be part of the America's Cup you need to be really rich - or really good so that one of the rich guys will hire you. But sailing as a hobby has nothing to do with rich people," he said.
swissinfo, Billi Bierling
The Swiss Alinghi team has won the best-of-nine final of the Louis Vuitton Cup 5-1.
It beat the US Oracle crew by two minutes and 34 seconds in their final race.
The team will challenge the previous America's Cup winner, Team New Zealand, on February 15.
This is the 31st edition of the race.
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