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28 September 2002, 11:45 am
Spectacular Opening Ceremony
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Tha Americas Cup Paraded©Carlo Borlenght/SEA&SEE

America's Cup
Auckland

With a high cloud cover dulling the brilliant springtime sunshine, the challengers for Louis Vuitton Cup 2002-2003 and defender Team New Zealand ushered in the America's Cup 2003 season.
The nine syndicates from six nations begin the challenger selection series on Tuesday, 1 October, but today Italians and Frenchmen, Swiss and Scandinavians, Australians, Americans and Kiwis all rubbed shoulders and breathed in each other's essence parading down Auckland's Queen St.

Colour and culture flooded Tamaki-Makau-Rau - Maori for Auckland, the city of one hundred lovers because the area was desired by all and conquered by many - as the 10 teams made the 20-minute trek to Te Wero Island in Viaduct Harbour in their official uniforms.

While the turn-of-the-century Louis Vuitton Cup was considered the best ever by many, this one's shaping up to be even better.

"The scene is drastically different to last time," said Oracle BMW Racing helmsman Peter Holmberg, who previously sailed with Team Dennis Conner. "I think it's due to New Zealand putting on such a fantastic show last time. Everyone who had a taste said, 'Wow, what a fantastic thing.' Give credit to the Kiwis for pulling off such a good event."

The America's Cup and Louis Vuitton Cup led the parade that included dancers, cheerleaders and even an Austin Powers impersonator. An estimated 30,000 people lined Queen St. to take in the joyous occasion. Team New Zealand syndicate head Tom Schnackenberg proclaimed the crowd much larger than in 1999.

The opening ceremonies on Te Wero Island began with a Haka Powhiri, a traditional Maori welcoming. Speeches followed from Auckland's Mayor, John Banks, and New Zealand's Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable Helen Clark.

The festive atmosphere also had a sombre overtone. Conspicuously missed from the proceedings was Sir Peter Blake, the former head of Team New Zealand and one of the country's most beloved figures.

Sir Peter became legendary in ocean-racing circles for sailing more than a half million miles around the globe and winning the Whitbread Round the World Race (crewed, multi-leg) as well as the Trophée Jules Verne (fastest crewed, non-stop).

Although he established his reputation in marathon offshore events, he was knighted for leading Team New Zealand to victory in America's Cup 1995. In 2000, Sir Peter led New Zealand's successful defence of the America's Cup, the first-ever outside of the U.S.

Tragically, Sir Peter was killed aboard his yacht Seamaster last December while on an environmental expedition to the Amazon River. He was instrumental in the modern development of the Viaduct Harbour and his legacy was there for all to see.

Sir Edmund Hillary, who was knighted for being the first to summit Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, introduced a five-minute video in memory of the hero that brought chills to spines and tears to gazing eyes.

In it Sir Peter says of achievement, "It's not meant to be easy. If it was easy you wouldn't feel as if you achieved anything." Few of Sir Peter's undertakings were easy, but he succeeded at each one of them and his video elicited a standing ovation.

The opening ceremonies featured a strong cultural emphasis to New Zealand's history. The first Maori navigators arrived more than 1,000 years ago and Sir Hugh Kawharu welcomed everyone on behalf of the host tribe of Auckland.

"On behalf of the Maoris of this city, we offer you a warm and sincere welcome," said Sir Hugh, chief of the Ngati Whatau tribe. "In the days and weeks ahead we look forward to becoming better acquainted."

The Haka Powhiri is a ritual to greet foreigners. The Maoris were part of the official ground breaking for the harbour in 1997, and a lone warrior challenged the foreigners in a Wero.

The warrior approached Luca Birindelli, Chairman of the Challenger of Record Management, who represented the foreigners. The Maori warrior laid down a take, a leaf, at his feet. Staring down the warrior, Birindelli, an Italian lawyer, stooped to retrieve the take, indicating he accepted the challenge. As the skirted, bare-chested warrior retreated, the blue-blazered Birindelli led the syndicates onto the Maroi's spiritual land.

Once the formalities of the ceremony were completed the hosts greeted their guests by sharing the breath of life Hongi. This act symbolises the coming together of two people as one. By rubbing noses you breathe in the essence of each other.

America's Cup 2003 Louis Vuitton Cup Media Centre director Bruno Troublé introduced five representatives from all 10 teams and they were accompanied by a two-minute video.

Performers at the 90-minute ceremony included singers Annie Crummer, Dave Dobbyn, Jackie Clarke, Phil Madsen and Hinewehi Mohi, all internationally acclaimed vocalists and instrumentalists. The Auckland Paccific Gospel Choir, the Royal New Zealand Navy Band and the Pacific Log Drummers also performed.

The ceremony came to a conclusion when Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright, the crown's official representative, proclaimed, "Let the competition begin." Brief fireworks followed, with more song and dance.

And then the teams, friends for a few hours, vanished into the night. In less than 72 hours they will be adversaries again.
Sean Mcneill
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