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"German Battery" Powers Swiss to America's Cup

Switzerland became the first land-locked country to win sailing's 152-year-old America's Cup as Germany cheered native son and the Swiss yacht's sports director, Jochen Schümann.


Jochen Schümann hoists the cup, the crowning of an already successful career

The Swiss yacht Alinghi brought the America's Cup to Europe over the weekend with a precision and professionalism that humbled even mighty cup defenders New Zealand.

The Swiss team, skippered by former America's Cup champion Russell Coutts, beat cup defender Team New Zealand 5-0 in the best of nine series on Friday. On Monday, the 95-member multinational team was officially handed the world's oldest trophy at a ceremony at race headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand.

America's Cup, die schweizerische Alinghi- Jacht

Swiss Defi yacht Alinghi, SUI-64, sailing in a wave during the fifth match-race against the New Zealander defender yacht, Team New Zealand, NZL-82, during the America's Cup final, in Hauraki gulf, near Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 2, 2003. Alinghi won today's race by 45 seconds that brings the score to 5: 0 for Alinghi which won the America's Cup. The Cup will return to Europe for the first time with Alinghi after 152 years. (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)

"This is an historic moment for Switzerland and Europe," Alinghi boss and bio-tech millionaire Ernesto Bertarelli said Monday. "We Swiss can look back at a 700-year-old democracy and know not to underestimate the 152-year-old tradition of the America's Cup."

Alinghi Challenge was a veritable United Nations of sailing. Sailors from 15 different countries made up the crew.

"They functioned like a Swiss watch with international gears and a German battery," said Tim Kröger, the German member of the French challenge yacht Le Defi. A Berliner's ultimate prize

The battery power was provided by Berliner Jochen Schümann, who has long been considered one of Europe's top sailors. The 48-year-old won his first gold medal in 1976, following it with two more in 1988 and 1996. His resume includes multiple European and World Championships. Only sailing's "Mt. Everest" was missing.

As member of the Swiss challenger "be hAPpy" in 2000, his team was forced to bow out of the 2000 America's Cup qualifying after their only mast snapped during racing. The Swiss went at it more professionally and better-financed the second time around, with Bertarelli leading the alpine syndicate.

Schümann was moved out from behind the wheel to make way for New Zealander Coutts, who won the America's Cup in 1995 and 2000. Bertarelli paid Coutts, arguably the world's best helmsman, a rumoured $15 million to leave team New Zealand.

A total of $55 million (€51 million) was spent on the syndicate. The boat was built in the Swiss mountains, but designed by a Australian, a German and a Spaniard. Bertarelli culled his crew from the 2000 cup victors Team New Zealand, and from competitions on Lake Geneva, the Mediterranean Sea and the south of France.

Party time for Jochen

Schümann stayed on as sport director of Alinghi, forming one third of the Alpine dream team that also included New Zealand tactician Brad Butterworth. Schümann was the first to pop the champagne corks on Sunday, as Alinghi crossed the finish line 54 seconds ahead of Team New Zealand.

"I'm overjoyed," Schümann said. Together with his wife, Schümann partied with the Alinghi team until 4:30 a.m. Sunday and slept until 10 a.m, admitting he "couldn't remember the last time," he had "that luxury," he told reporters.

"Jochen has already done a lot for sailing in Germany, but this victory marks the very top of his surprisingly successful career," said Bernd Jäkel, who used to sail with Schümann at the YC Berlin-Grünau yacht club.

There are already rumors circulating that Germany is eager to mount its first America's Cup entry when racing begins somewhere in Europe in 2007. Munich businessman Michael Illbruck is reported to have financial partners lined up for a €90 million challenge. But any possible German entry won't be able to count on the services of Schümann, he revealed Sunday.

"When you win the cup with the Alinghi Challenge then you want to defend the cup with them as well," Schümann said.

Sailing in the alps?

Where the land-locked Swiss will defend their title is still up for discussion. Harbors in the south of France, off the Spanish coast, off the Italian coast near Genoa and off the coast near Lisbon, Portugal are being considered as possible locations in 2006 or 2007. But at the moment, the focus is still very much on the party. Thousands of Swiss are expected to cheer on the America's Cup trophy as Team Alinghi parades it across Lake Geneva. It will find a permanent home in the Societe Nautique de Geneve, the Geneva-based yacht club that sponsored Team Alinghi's challenge.

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