Alinghi are the first European team to retain the America's Cup [AFP]

Swiss syndicate Alinghi have become the first European to defend the America's Cup, sailing's most prestigious competition, with a thrilling 5-2 series win over Emirates Team New Zealand.

In a seventh race on Tuesday, Alinghi overcame a shattered spinnaker pole in the final race to creep past the Kiwis to win by just one second, the closest ever margin of victory in the 156-year-old competition.

It was also only the fourth time in America's Cup history that a defending yacht has retained the "Auld Mug" - world sport's oldest trophy.

Ernesto Bertarelli, the head of the Alinghi syndicate, said the victory off the coast of Valencia was better than that in Auckland in 2003.

"This is definitely bigger and better than last time. It was much, much harder," the pharmaceutical billionaire said in reference to the 5-0 win over Team New Zealand four years ago.
  
"I've learnt more in the last 10 days than in the last seven years. For me it's been a lesson in life.
  
"Apart from the birth of my kids, it's the best day of my life."

'Incredible job'

Brad Butterworth, the yacht's skipper, put the victory down to "four years of hard work".
  
"The crew, the designers and the shore team have done an incredible job throughout the series. We have fought hard against
a strong challenger and have won"


"The crew, the designers and the shore team have done an incredible job throughout the series. We have fought hard against a strong challenger and have won," he said.

Grant Dalton, principal of Team New Zealand, was magnanimous in defeat.
  
"The guys have done an amazing job," he said. "Right now the guys aren't feeling that sharp - it's been a long four years. I'm of course enormously proud of them but Alinghi did a better job than us.
  
"All credit to Alinghi. They kept it close when we got past them on the first run they just kept on sailing the way they do and beat us fair and square in the end."
  
Alinghi just edged the Kiwis in a nail-biting finale that saw SUI 100's spinnaker pole fly off the mast and the sail flop into the water, leaving them at a standstill just 200 metres from the finishing line with the wind dropping.
  
NZL 92 past the stricken Swiss team but had to perform a penalty turn before the finish after earlier encroaching on Alinghi's run-up for the third mark.
  
The Kiwis performed the double-tack manouevre impeccably but by the time they had finished, Alinghi had regained enough speed to just edge their bow ahead for the win.

Source: Agencies