After travelling half-way round the world to win yachting's biggest prize, the Alinghi sailing team are now embarking on a road trip of Switzerland.This content was published on April 5, 2003 - 13:51
The America's Cup winners have begun a national tour - taking with them the famous trophy and the story of Alinghi's success.
"Generally the trophy sits in a cabinet at the winners' yacht club and never gets seen by the greater public," Alinghi spokesman Mike Abson told swissinfo during the team's two-day visit to the Swiss transport museum in Lucerne.
"We wanted to make things a little more public and give people the chance to see the trophy, have their photograph taken with it and meet the sailors who brought the trophy to Switzerland."
The road show includes a film which chronicles how the Swiss syndicate, bankrolled by Genevan biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, overcame the odds to become the first representatives of a landlocked country to lift world sailing's most coveted trophy.
But the tour isn't just about presenting the history of the Alinghi bid. Interactive elements have also been incorporated, including a computerised race simulator and a "grinder challenge" in which visitors can measure their rope-winching prowess against that of the Alinghi crew.
As the Lucerne event got underway, though, the crew members' arm muscles were being tested not by their sailing duties but by the demands of the autograph hunters.
Not that the sailors seem to mind being in demand. During a break in signing, Alinghi helmsman and sports director Jochen Schuemann was clearly impressed with the public response.
"I think it's wonderful to see so much enthusiasm", the triple Olympic sailing champion told swissinfo. "I am very happy that so many people supported us during the racing and that so many of them are now joining us on the road tour."
Despite being one of the many "foreigners" among the Alinghi crew, Schuemann insists that the Swiss can take real pride in the America's Cup win - pointing out that last month's final victory wasn't just down to those in charge of handling the boat.
"This tour should represent what the Alinghi team itself represented - a national challenge by Switzerland," says Schuemann. "As well as the sporting aspect, we relied on the country's competence in the fields of technology, craftsmanship and management - so I think our success is quite important for the whole nation."
As one of only three Swiss to have been on board for the final race of the America's Cup series, Zurich's Enrico de Maria hopes that Alinghi's stunning achievement - and the subsequent promotion activities - can help increase Swiss interest in his sport.
De Maria agrees with Schuemann, though, that the message behind the victory is about much more than just sailing.
"I think maybe we've shown people something of the spirit in our bid, and shown that it's possible to be successful and achieve something. It doesn't have to be about sailing in particular but rather to show that Swiss people can be successful, and if they work 100 per cent, they can achieve a lot."
Having already taken the America's Cup through Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Zurich and now Lucerne, Alinghi is planning further events in Bern, Basel and St Gallen before returning to their Genevan base in early May.
Even then the "auld mug", as the trophy is affectionately known, may not have done with its roaming.
Mounting a new challenge?
Bertarelli famously boasted that he would take the cup to the top of the Matterhorn if his team were successful in winning the competition. And as he oversaw the trophy's safe packing up in Lucerne, Mike Abson said his boss wasn't joking.
"There's been a lot of talk about doing that, even though Mr Bertarelli is very busy with his regular work right now," said Abson. "So I wouldn't be surprised if you see him up there with the cup in the near future. And if he does go, I can assure you he won't take a helicopter up there - he'll climb it."
As it journeys the length and breadth of Switzerland, the old trophy might feel it's done enough travelling already, without also having to scale one of the country's most giddying heights.
But those who not so long ago doubted the ability of Bertarelli to pull off the biggest challenge in world sailing are unlikely to be so sceptical if he does indeed take a brief foray into the world of mountaineering.
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Lucerne
Alinghi on tour
The Alinghi road show gives visitors a chance to meet members of the America's Cup winning team and have their photo taken with the trophy.
There are also interactive games, allowing people to try their hand at steering a boat or winching in the sails.
The tour has so far visited Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Zurich and Lucerne with further stops planned in Bern, Basel and St Gallen.
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