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9 March 2003, 02:49 pm
Alinghi Given a Heroes Welcome
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America's Cup

Team Alinghi, the Swiss-owned boat that won sailing's prestigious America's Cup for a European nation for the first time, returned to its land-locked home base on Saturday and received a heroes' welcome.
Hundreds of Alinghi fans, including Swiss President Pascal Couchepin, gave bio-tech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli's team a rapturous reception at Geneva's airport as it arrived from Auckland, where Alinghi won the historic trophy in a 5-0 whitewash over Team New Zealand.

"I am the happiest man in the world," Bertarelli said after he stepped off the plane, clutching the coveted silver cup, sport's oldest trophy. Couchepin said the team, bankrolled by Bertarelli and sailing under the banner of the Societe Nautique de Geneve, had created a wave of emotion and sympathy in Switzerland, a mountainous nation of 7.2 million people.

"You have created a positive and motivating mood, which creates self-confidence in times marked by strong international tensions and fears of war," he said.

"The image of Switzerland as a country that dares, overcomes and wins will once again be recognised all over the world."

A street party in Geneva's city centre was planned later on Saturday to honour the Alinghi team, which was dominated by New Zealanders. Ironically, Switzerland will not host the Cup's defence.

Italian-born Bertarelli has suggested Naples, Barcelona, Palma de Majorca, and Saint Tropez as possible venues. Monaco has also been mentioned and Cascais, just outside of Lisbon, is a serious Atlantic Ocean alternative. At a news conference after their arrival, Bertarelli and his skipper Russell Coutts, a New Zealander, said the team had yet to decide on the venue for the next race, most likely to take place in 2006 or 2007.

Coutts reiterated that Alinghi planned to introduce new rules to make the event more appealing to television audiences and remove some of the traditional advantages enjoyed by the defending team.

Until the next race, the historic America's Cup trophy will find a new home at the Geneva yacht club, founded in 1872, where bleary-eyed members stayed up all night to watch the decisive race a week ago.

But the private club -- where elite Geneva private bankers rub shoulders with such as Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Marina Doria de Savoy of Italy's royal family -- is not open to the public keen to view the trophy.

"We'll find a place for the cup. There will be public access but we will have to fix viewing hours," Alec Tournier, the club's secretary-general, said this week, adding tight security measures would be implemented to guard the trophy.

Geneva's government has named a public space in front of the club and city's main outdoor swimming pool "Esplanade Alinghi". The Swiss Post Office has printed a special commemorative stamp to mark the team's victory.

Bertarelli, at the age of 37 one of Switzerland's wealthiest men with a fortune estimated at more than seven billion Swiss francs ($5.3 billion), has said he wants to take the trophy to the top of the Matterhorn, Switzerland's best-known Alpine peak.

Eurosport/ISAF News Editor
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