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9-second win pulls U.S. even

AmericaOne tied the best-of-nine America's Cup challenger final at three today with a nine-second win, holding off a charge by Prada on the final leg. The U.S. boat, once trailing 3-1, can take the lead from the Italian boat in Thursday's seventh race.

How close was it? AmericaOne had won the start in the first five races but was tied when the boats crossed the starting line today in their battle to face defending champion New Zealand in the final starting Feb. 19.

Then Prada surged ahead, leading at the end of the first two legs of the six-leg course by 20 and 17 seconds. But AmericaOne moved ahead at the end of the next two by 16 and seven seconds. Three legs go into the wind and the other three have the wind coming from behind.

Then came the last two legs of the 18{-mile Hauraki Gulf course, one into the wind, the final one with a strong breeze of about 20 knots pushing the boats. Those two legs covered 6\ miles. AmericaOne sailed them just two seconds faster.

It maintained its seven-second lead at the fifth mark and crossed the finish line in the closest race of the round.

Prada won the first race by 24 seconds and AmericaOne took the second by 1 minute, 33 seconds. AmericaOne withdrew because of equipment problems with less than one-third of the next race left. And it lost the fourth race even though it edged Prada by a half-boat length because it had to make a 270-degree penalty turn for blocking Prada's path in the final minute. Prada won by 2:32.

The Italians' biggest problem came at the start of the third leg after it had taken down its spinnaker after the second leg. Part of that sail got caught on the rudder beneath the boat, and a crewman tried to free it with a pole. He leaned over the port side for several minutes, held by a teammate, before his mission apparently succeeded. AmericaOne took the lead on that leg and never lost it.