America's Cup win brings relief, elation for New Zealanders

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) For thousands of New Zealanders who four years ago watched their sailing team crumble from a seemingly unbeatable position, a win in the America's Cup brought as much relief as it did elation.

Emirates Team New Zealand clinched a 7-1 victory over Oracle Team USA, winning back a trophy the South Pacific nation lost in 2003 and helping erase memories of the team's catastrophic 9-8 defeat to Oracle in 2013 in a match they once led 8-1.

Across the country, people set their alarms for 5 a.m. Tuesday to watch the racing in Bermuda. Some families dragged their sleepy children, blankets and all, along to the local sailing club.

''My heart's been racing something awful,'' said Roger Foley, who watched the race with dozens of others at the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in Wellington. ''It's David and Goliath. We beat the biggest and the best in the world, so that's just fabulous.''

John Floyd said the previous collapse was gnawing at his mind, but this time the New Zealand team had out-prepared Oracle.

''I think they thought it through more carefully and they were smarter about the way they put the boat together,'' he said. ''I think as a team they worked together better.''

While sailing remains a niche sport in many countries, in New Zealand, it's become mainstream thanks to the nation's long stretches of coastline, strong winds and the people's love for water sports.

Dean Stanley, the father of Team New Zealand sailor Josh Junior, said his son started sailing at age 5 and owned his own boat at age 8.

''In Europe, it's a wealthy person's sport, but that's not the case in New Zealand,'' he said. ''Anyone can do it, and a lot of people do.''

Stanley said he spoke to his son on speakerphone after the win, but what with uncles, cousins and grandparents all whooping and yahooing and asking a thousand questions, it was hard for the sailor to say much.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Bill English posted a short video of himself celebrating the win at home: ''We are so proud of you,'' he wrote on Twitter.

Sport and Recreation Minister Jonathan Coleman said it was too early to say if the government would contribute any money toward hosting the next regatta.

''The first thing is the celebration, these guys deserve a great welcome home,'' he said. ''Then there will be time for discussing what happens next.''

If the next cup regatta is held in New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, as is widely anticipated, it could bring an economic windfall to the country worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge will be the Challenger of Record, helping Team New Zealand decide the rules and class of boat.

In the meantime, Foley had the same celebration plans as many other New Zealanders: a hearty breakfast.