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Five challengers confirmed for next America's Cup

AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Five yachting syndicates have been confirmed as challengers for the next America's Cup after they met the deadline to lodge their intention to compete for sport's oldest trophy earlier this month, organizers said on Friday.

Teams from Britain, Sweden, France, Italy and New Zealand will compete against each other before they face software billionaire Larry Ellison's holders Oracle Team USA at the next event, which will be held in 2017 in either San Diego or Bermuda.

The original Challengers of Record, Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht Club, withdrew their challenge last month over concerns about the costs involved.

"It's exciting to look at the roster of teams who are lining up against us," Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said in a statement. "We're facing five strong challengers who have a lot of resources, talent and experience."

Organizers have said that late challenges could be accepted.

The 35th America's Cup format has changed from previous years where syndicates gathered in one venue to race each other before the winner of that regatta went on to face the holders.

Instead the next event will consist of races in an America's Cup World Series in venues around the world, before it narrows to the 2017 America's Cup when the top challenger will meet Oracle.

Instead of the massive AC72 foiling catamarans used for last year's event, where Oracle produced a remarkable comeback on San Francisco Bay to storm back from an 8-1 deficit to beat Team New Zealand 9-8 in a winner-takes-all final race, smaller AC62 yachts will be used in the next regatta.

Teams will race the even smaller AC45 yachts in the America's Cup World Series.

New Zealand's challenge, which had been partially funded by the Government, had been in jeopardy earlier this year with uncertainty over sponsorship and the format and location of the competition.

They confirmed shortly before the deadline, however, they would challenge for the Cup.

"New Zealand has a long and proud history in the America's Cup," skipper Dean Barker said.

"We see some formidable opposition taking shape in the 35th America's Cup and we have no illusions about the job ahead.

"We have been working quietly behind the scenes towards this day almost since the last day of the 34th America's Cup.

"Now the real work begins."

Multiple Olympic champion Ben Ainslie will head the British challenge.

Ainslie was widely credited with turning around Oracle's defense last year when he moved onto the boat as tactician before he left the team to set up the British challenge.

"We are delighted that Royal Yacht Squadron Racing's challenge for the 35th America's Cup has been officially accepted," Ainslie said.

"The America's Cup originates from the Squadron and it is our goal to return the Cup to where it belongs."

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Mark Meadows)

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