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America’s Cup 2003, won by a landlocked country

The cup was dominated by the Swiss team Alinghi, captained by Russell Coutts and financed by Ernesto Bertelli

Home race America’s Cup 2003, won by a landlocked country
America’s Cup 2003, won by a landlocked country

The second edition of the America’s Cup to be held in New Zealand – the third south of the Equator if you count the 1987 edition held in Fremantle, Western Australia – was a turning point and the consequences were even more revolutionary than those of the first American defeat in 1983. It was when one of the characters, who has far more in common with Lipton or Bich than the “hustlers” of the most recent generation of syndicates, burst onto the scene. 

His name was Ernesto Bertarelli, born in Rome and raised in Geneva, where his father Fabio had moved the headquarters of century-old pharmaceutical giant Serono. He soon became CEO and was the richest entrepreneur with a Swiss passport. He discovered his great passion for sailing with his sister during their holidays as children at Monte Argentario in Tuscany.

The trading season

Alinghi was a made-up name and a brainchild of those days era but it would go on to make history. Bertarelli was no newcomer. By the end of the 1990s, he had won races in every class at sea and enjoyed dominating the Bol d’Or, the competition par excellence on Lake Geneva. He was ready to attempt the great challenge. He involved the Société Nautique of his city and understood that the only way was to act not unlike the president of a football team who wanted to fight for the championship title climbing up from the bottom, that is to spend a lot of money and steal the best player from the opponents.

He started by taking the defending Team New Zealand to pieces convincing helmsman Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth to move to Switzerland. Four other team-mates would follow them soon and this was decisive to create a very strong multinational team where the Italians are not secondary. Bertarelli told reporters that he had set himself a budget of no more than 60 million Euros but actually, he would spend double that at the end.

Two Italian challenges

The Louis Vuitton Cup began in the Hauraki Gulf on 1 October 2002. The media coverage was like never before also because the teams had deep-pocketed sponsors that were attracted by live television broadcasts. There were nine challengers on the starting line: three Americans (One World Challenge, Oracle BMW Racing, Team Dennis Conner), the Swedish Victory Challenge, the French Le Defi Areva, the British GBR Challenge, the aforementioned Alinghi and two Italians. The record-breaking challenger Prada Challenge was joined by Mascalzone Latino, led by Vincenzo Onorato from Naples, one of Italy’s greatest ship owners and a sailing enthusiast. For his first adventure, he rightly counted on a very Italian team – led by Paolo Cian and Paolo Scutellaro – and on the support of the Reale Yacht Club Canottieri Savoia, one of the historical clubs of his city. He would win only one race out of 16, but it was the experience that counted.

The Louis Vuitton Cup

Patrizio Bertelli’s team won the Louis Vuitton Cup, but this time the boats were not up to scratch, so much so that designer Doug Peterson was relieved of his duties after the first disappointing races. Luna Rossa managed to reach the finals and dominated the Victory Challenge but in the end lost 2-3 to One World Challenge. The Louis Vuitton Cup was over for Prada Challenge which witnessed Alinghi’s walk in the park to beat BMW Oracle Racing 5-1, a team we would be hearing a lot more about.

The final

It was time for the final race. On one side was the Swiss armada with many ‘traitors’ according to the New Zealand fans. On the other side was the home boat with Russell Coutts’ favourite pupil Dean Barker at the helm. It was a blow, also because Team New Zealand was stopped by technical problems in two races. The score was 5-0 to Alinghi. Incredibly, a landlocked country had won the America’s Cup.

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