Sometimes the race really is to the swift, and it's a sight to lift the heart. The Australians clearly had a faster boat, and they handled her brilliantly. The Americans struggled valiantly to overcome the handicap of a slower boat. But in the most extraordinarily close-run series in this very long competition, the challenger finally surged ahead to win the cup.

There has been a little muttering on the American side that the Australians infringed the obscure and fine-spun rule about national origin by having their revolutionary new keel tested in the Netherlands. That's malarkey. Australia is not a large country, and if some of the design work was done in Holland, that will not change any sensible person's view of the race by a millimeter. The boat was Australian, and the Australians earned their victory the hard way.

There is something about a 132-year monopoly of a trophy that invites a cheer--regardless of your nationality--for the challenger. The Americans had got a bit too much in the habit of winning, and that is never good for Americans. For the same country to successfully defend a cup 25 times--as the United States has since winning it in 1851--also invites unflattering thoughts about the fairness of the competition. Americans are widely acknowledged to be fair, decent, kind, generous to a fault and lovable --but 25 wins in a row is not good for anybody's national character.

This setback, the Australians should be warned, may not prove to be permanent. The Americans will probably be back after that cup next time. And when they do, their boat will probably have a keel that looks very much like the one on Australia II.