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Swiss joy at triumphant Alinghi

Bertarelli, holding the cup, greets supporters in Geneva.
Bertarelli, holding the cup, greets supporters in Geneva.

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GENEVA, Switzerland -- Victorious team Alinghi were welcomed back to Switzerland on Saturday by more than 40,000 supporters when they arrived in Geneva with the America's Cup.

Alinghi, headed by Swiss pharmaceutical billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli with a crew of top New Zealanders, beat Team New Zealand 5-0 in the 31st America's Cup Match in Auckland to become the first European team to win the prestigious prize.

The America's Cup, a large sliver trophy, left Auckland with the Swiss team on a chartered aircraft on Friday and was met at Geneva airport on Saturday by local dignitaries and the Swiss President Pascal Couchepin.

The team was met by a sea of red flags as thousands of fans, who had followed the team's progress through five months of competition, had their first glimpse of the Cup.

"One day I dreamed of landing here at Cointrin Airport with the America's Cup. I was really the only one to believe it," said Bertarelli to the crowd.

As Swiss Television beamed live pictures, a crowd of 40,000 gathered on the shores of Lake Geneva in icy cold temperatures to welcome the crew as they arrived by boat and were presented one by one on the stage. The presentation ended with a fireworks display and a light show.

The America's Cup was originally designed as a stock item by London jeweller Robert Garrard in 1848. The trophy was purchased by the first Marquess of Anglesey, who presented it to the Royal Yacht Squadron as a racing trophy.

In 1851, the 100 Guinea Cup, as it was known, was put up for a contest between the schooner America, representing the New York Yacht Club and a fleet of fourteen British yachts representing the Royal Yacht Squadron, for a race clockwise around the Isle of Wight.

America won the race and the Cup went to New York, where it remained until 1983 when Australia II beat American Dennis Conner in Liberty in a close fought 4-3 match.

The Cup went to Fremantle, Australia but was won back by Conner at the first attempt in 1987 in Stars & Stripes, 5-0, and headed to San Diego, U.S.

Team New Zealand with skipper Russell Coutts were the second crew in history to take the Cup from America beating Conner sailing Young America 5-0 in 1995.

Coutts then became the first challenger to successfully defend the Cup in Auckland in 2000, beating Italian challenger Prada 5-0.

After the 2000 victory, Coutts and five key Team New Zealand crewmembers joined the Swiss Alinghi team and went on to beat Team New Zealand 5-0 in March 2003, taking the Cup to Europe for the first time since it left in 1851.

Alinghi have received special dispensation to chose the next venue for the Cup, as they are a land-locked nation. Bertarelli has confirmed that the Cup will be held in Southern Europe, but will not announce the venue until December 15, 2003.

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