Sailing: America's long wait comes to an end

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The Star Spangled Banner was playing here yesterday to celebrate the first United States win in the Admiral's Cup since 1969. It has been a long wait - but there was almost as loud a cheer for Britain's John Merricks and Ian Walker as they trounced their 36ft divisional rivals to end as the top scorer in their class over the nine-race series and make the classic Fastnet Race their first offshore win.

The late charge by the defending Italians to deny the Americans for the second cup in succession foundered in early morning light airs and a lottery of a finish off Queen Anne's Battery for the 40-footers. Italy's Brava Q8 had led nearly all the way round the 610-mile course, but she could do nothing when stuck with the line in sight as first Germany's Pinta and then America's MK Cafe found some breeze and sailed straight past.

Brava Q8 finished sixth as the Italians had to settle for third place overall, behind Germany as well as the Americans. Flash Gordon, from the States, was the top individual boat.

"A year ago we were being presented with our Olympic silver medals in Savannah, both proud and slightly disappointed," Merricks said. "Today we are very happy to have achieved such an excellent result. It's been a huge transition in six months and we hope to move on to bigger boats - but this weekend we fly to Israel for the 470 World Championships."

Other winning signs for Britain, despite finishing fifth overall and last lifting the cup in 1989, were the performances on Graham Walker's big boat, Corum Indulgence, and the declaration by the 40-footer owner, Tony Buckingham, that he would be back in 1999 with more firepower.

Having to be more philosophical were the New Zealanders, who went into the Fastnet lying second to America, took a team tactical decision to head off into the Channel last Saturday night, and dived embarrassingly to sixth overall.

Results, Digest, page 23