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America's Cup winners return to hero's welcome

Alinghi boss, Ernesto Bertarelli, arrives in Geneva bearing the America's Cup trophy Keystone

Switzerland's victorious sailing team, Alinghi, is back on home turf after winning the America's Cup last weekend off the coast of New Zealand.

This content was published on March 8, 2003 - 22:03

More than 40,000 people helped the Alinghi crew celebrate their win with a party in Geneva on Saturday night.

Saturday's party came almost a week after Alinghi demolished Team New Zealand with their fifth consecutive win.

After landing at Geneva's Cointrin airport, the syndicate head, Ernesto Bertarelli was greeted by the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin.

Couchepin applauded the Swiss for being the first crew to bring the coveted America's Cup trophy to Europe in 152 years.

"I congratulate you and the Alinghi team on your historic win," Couchepin told Bertarelli during a tarmac reception. "You have my full admiration."

Bertarelli, who was first off the plane, carried the America's Cup trophy - sailing's most sought-after prize - and proudly placed it on Swiss soil.

"It's a great feeling to be back in Switzerland," he told swissinfo. "In the past, I've dreamt of coming off the plane with the America's Cup in my hands and today that dream became a reality.

"I'm the happiest man in the world," added the Swiss billionaire and head of Europe's largest biotech firm, Serono.

Shower of praise

The team was literally showered with praise upon their arrival as airport fire fighters used water cannon to spray an arch of water over their chartered jumbo jet.

Hundreds of supporters, Swiss officials and friends and family members of the team cheered and clapped as they descended from the plane.

"We salute your achievement as an incredible human adventure," said the mayor of Geneva, André Hediger.

Bertarelli returned the praise by thanking the Swiss for their support.

"I would like to thank all of Switzerland," he said, "because it was here that I learned about tolerance and friendship and to be open to the world."

Future plans

New Zealand's Russell Coutts, the Alinghi skipper, said he and other team members were planning to move to Switzerland in preparation for the next America's Cup, due to take place in 2007.

"We will probably be based somewhere in or around Geneva," Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth, told swissinfo.

It will be up to Bertarelli and Coutts, along with Alinghi director, Michel Bonnefous, to decide where the next America's Cup challenge will take place.

Landlocked Switzerland is unsuitable for hosting an America's Cup challenge and so the three men will have to pick an alternative location to host the competition.

"We will make an initial selection of three or four potential host-cities," said Bonnefous on Saturday. "We will then carefully examine each location and we hope to take a final decision by autumn."

Back to work

Meanwhile, Bertarelli said it was back to reality for him on Monday.

"I'll be back in my office at Serono and I'm looking forward to seeing my team there and doing what I do," he told swissinfo.

Between now and then, he said he planned to "get some sleep" after celebrating with team members and thousands of well wishers, who turned out for a lakeside party in Geneva on Saturday night.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli has returned home to Geneva with his winning crew.

The team's aircraft was greeted by hundreds of fans and a "guard-of-honour" created by giant water cannon.

The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, congratulated Bertarelli and his team for a "historic win".

Alinghi's 5-0 victory against Team New Zealand was the first time in 152 years that a European team clinched the America's Cup.

Alinghi skipper, Russell Coutts, along with other team members, plans to relocate to Switzerland in preparation for the 2007 America's Cup.

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