Truculent defenders drag their heels

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The Independent Online
At all square and with everything to play for, the three syndicates bidding to defend the America's Cup for the US are now bogged down in a war of attrition which could see the Citizen Cup final drag on and on, after Dennis Conner won the re-sail of the race he would have won against Bill Koch's America3 when the wind died on Wednesday, writes Stuart Alexander from San Diego.

The trio have also won their fight with the San Diego Yacht Club's defence committee over who controls the conditions of the 12-race series. "We do," they said emphatically; "No you don't," said Chuck Nichols, the president of America's Cup '95; "Yes they do," said the jury, headed by Britain's John Doerr.

Young America, after two losses, has already made a mode change - a new rudder sporting a pair of wings. They can change back again if they do not like the results. The other two can choose when to exercise their option.

That was agreed by the syndicates under the "mutual consent" provisions, and these have again been given precedence over the edicts of the organisers. As the conditions for the America's Cup match beginning on 6 May have yet to be agreed and signed, the challengers - with stricter regulations - will be very wary.

On the ropes and with nowhere to go, John Bertrand, of oneAustralia, said: "I don't think it's very fair. We would like to see a more level playing-field on behalf of the challengers." But if he had any thoughts of persuading Team New Zealand to allow changes, he was in for further disappointment.

"We are in a no-change period and we are geared up for no change, so to hell, no, let's get on, " TNZ's Alan Sefton said. "There have been too many abuses in this regatta already."

Sefton is confident that the match conditions will prohibit the kind of free-for-all which the defender syndicates have forced through. They also refused the request from oneAustralia to keep yesterday as a day off to make adjustments, rather than catching up on the race programme. Asked if the challengers could interpret their rules to make mid-round changes, the jury again refused, unless the changes "are necessitated as a result of damage."

At this stage, it would not be wise for the challengers to copy precedents set by the defenders, if they wish to oppose those precedents in the negotiations for the match conditions.

CITIZEN CUP Challenger finals: Team New Zealand bt oneAustralia, 1min 57sec. Standings: 1 Team New Zealand 2pts; 2 oneAustralia 0.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP Defender finals: Stars & Stripes bt America3, 2min 50sec. Standings: 1= Young America, America3, Stars & Stripes, 2pts.