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No Swiss Tease -- Alinghi Advances

Coutts and crew easily beat Oracle for 5-1 series victory, clinching place in America's Cup final.

January 19, 2003|From Associated Press

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Oracle was finished before it even started the last race of the America's Cup challenger final.

Taking advantage of Oracle's penalty during pre-start maneuvers today, Switzerland's Alinghi advanced to the final against Team New Zealand with a 5-1 victory in the best-of-nine series.

Alinghi crossed the finish line less than 10 seconds ahead of its San Francisco rival, but the victory margin grew to 2 minutes 34 seconds after Oracle took its penalty turn.

Oracle's loss leaves the America's Cup without a U.S. boat in the final for the second consecutive time after American yachts participated in all previous finals in the 152-year-old event.

After the race was delayed by nearly two hours because of light wind, Oracle was penalized before the start for not keeping clear during pre-start maneuvers, causing the yachts to nearly collide.

"He got one, he got one," Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth shouted to his crew even before the flag indicating a penalty to Oracle went up.

Alinghi, led by New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts, will try to end New Zealand's hold on sports' oldest trophy in the nine-race final scheduled to begin Feb. 15. New Zealand has won the last two regattas, in 1995 off San Diego and in 2000 off Auckland.

Oracle led for the first two legs today without taking its penalty, but fell behind after three legs, marking the fourth time in the series that the San Francisco boat had lost the lead.

Alinghi won the start by a second in nine knots of wind as it went up the committee boat side and headed for the right side of the course. Oracle took the left, but when the yachts crossed, Oracle had a lead of about a boat-length and led after the first mark by 15 seconds.

Oracle doubled its lead early in the second leg, but Alinghi closed the gap as the blue light flashed on the umpire's boat indicating that Oracle needed to complete the penalty turn.

Alinghi, unable to do much to cut into Oracle's lead, trailed by 28 seconds after two legs. On the third leg, Alinghi threw a half-dozen tacks at Oracle to try to cut into the lead.

Alinghi closed the margin when the wind fell dramatically around Oracle, which was sailing about 150 meters away. Alinghi took a 10-second lead after the third leg, its first lead in the six-leg, 18.5-nautical-mile race.

"I'll tell you, the shift didn't save us, in the end he [Oracle] just died in the corner," Butterworth told Alinghi's crew of the wind drop.

Alinghi increased the margin to 24 seconds after four legs and, regardless of the lead, could sail confidently knowing Oracle had to take the penalty turn.

On the final leg as Oracle closed on Alinghi, Oracle skipper Chris Dickson said, "We can still win this thing." But Alinghi held its lead.

Oracle's campaign ended after 34 races, including a 12-4 record in the round-robin series and an 8-0 mark in two playoff series against OneWorld of Seattle.

Oracle lost all four races to Alinghi in the first semifinal round and couldn't solve the Swiss boat in the challenger final.

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