SPORTING IMAGES / Those memorable moments that lit up the world of sport in 1992: Sailing: Il Moro bloodied but unbowed

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The Independent Online
THE official timers gave it as three seconds, but the actual margin looked even less than that as Paul Cayard, in Italy's Il Moro di Venezia, won his only race in a best-of-seven final of the America's Cup in May, writes Stuart Alexander.

He and his team, lavishly funded by the chemicals giant, Montedison, far from being overjoyed at besting Bill Koch's floating icon to Uncle Sam's technological superiority, at times looked washed out.

Against New Zealand, the beaten finalists in the Louis Vuitton elimination series to find the ultimate challenger from eight contenders, Cayard had staged a remarkable comeback. From being 4-1 down he had protested against the way the Kiwis were using a bowsprit to aid sail handling, had one of their wins annulled and went on to win 5-3.

There was no comeback in the Cup itself. Cayard knew that by throwing everything into a race and only holding off Bill Koch's America3 by three seconds, then the game was up.

Having tamely given away the first race, Cayard went into the second with teeth bared. He did not just seize the initiative. He chewed the very life out of it, executing a perfect move to trap his opponent, Buddy Melges, on the first leg.

On the spinnaker runs America3 always had a speed edge and the final beat saw the defenders throw in 37 tacks in an attempt to upset Cayard. The Italians responded magnificently, but there was still more drama to come as the two yachts zig-zagged downwind to the finish in the tantalisingly light airs. One tiny error by Koch's men 50 yards from the line snuffed out their attack.

What turned out to be Italy's final flourish had contained all the elements of style, steel, and frenetic frailty that make any sport compulsive to watch. It was not just that it produced the smallest margin in any America's Cup final in its 141-year history.

It was proof to those thousands watching on the waters of San Diego and the millions in front of television in the United States and Italy that when America's Cup yacht racing stages a head-to-head, bare-knuckle fight, it can stir the hearts of everyone.

(Photographs omitted)