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Life on the high seas in Lausanne

Alinghi in action off the New Zealand coast (Louis Vuitton)

The Olympic museum in Lausanne is offering visitors the chance to experience the thrills of ocean racing without getting their feet wet.

A series of audiovisual presentations on large screens traces the 150-year history of the America's Cup and the story of its younger sister competition, the Louis Vuitton Cup.

For Swiss visitors, an added attraction is the fact that Switzerland's entry, Alinghi, is one of the favourites to go through to challenge Team New Zealand in the America's Cup.

Should the Swiss qualify and defeat the title-holders near Auckland next March, it would be the first European victory since the competition's birth in 1851 - and the first by a yacht representing a landlocked country.

Some of the pictures in the Olympic Museum exhibition have never been shown before, including black-and-white coverage of races in the 1930s.

One film is a recreation of the celebrated 1851 race around the Isle of Wight, which was unexpectedly won by the Americans and led to the birth of the America's Cup.

Other films of more recent events almost transport viewers on board the big ocean yachts as they plough through stormy seas.

The films are projected onto cubes whose sides carry text telling the story of the two competitions.

After their 1851 victory against the British, the Americans went unbeaten for 132 years in what was traditionally a two-yacht race.

Competition widens

Then in 1983 the competition underwent a radical change with the introduction of the Louis Vuitton Cup, an elimination event over a period of three to four months.

This enabled up to around 15 countries to compete, with the eventual winner going through to challenge the holder of the America's Cup.

The first Louis Vuitton Cup was won by Australia II, which went on to take the America's Cup from the United States.

"Our company was created in 1854 shortly after the first America's Cup," says Olivier Dupont, head of the fashion house's operations in Switzerland.

"At the time we were producing a flat trunk using a very specific canvas. It was water-repellent and very light, and therefore useful for use on boats."

Common interest

So after sharing - almost - the same date of birth and starting life with a product ideal for the high seas, Louis Vuitton embarked on the long voyage towards organising the competition.

Millions of dollars in sponsorship money are needed to finance entries to these elite competitions, so it is perhaps appropriate that a company forever linked with high quality fashion accessories should be associated with the sport.

Dupont told swissinfo that Louis Vuitton decided to organise an interactive exhibition - with the museum and UBS as partners - to inform the wider public about the two events. Admission to the exhibition, which ends in Lausanne on December 5, is free.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

In brief

When the first Louis Vuitton Cup was staged in 1983, "Australia II" ended 132 years of American supremacy.

Since then, to win the America's Cup, a boat first has to win the Louis Vuitton Cup.

This year the Swiss boat, Alinghi, is one of nine yachts (three American, two Italian, one French, one English, one Swedish and one Swiss) competing in Auckland, New Zealand.

The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup will then challenge "Team New Zealand" in February 2003.

Alinghi is one of the favourites to win the Louis Vuitton Cup.

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