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America’s Cup Goes 1st Class

NEW YORK — Members of Team Alinghi’s tanned and brawny crew swung through the New York Yacht Club on Tuesday morning, but they weren’t the only ones catching some sideway glances.<br><br>Two former Swiss secret service agents were...

The America’s Cup with one of its protectors and its Louis Vuitton trunk.

The America’s Cup with one of its protectors and its Louis Vuitton trunk.

NEW YORK — Members of Team Alinghi’s tanned and brawny crew swung through the New York Yacht Club on Tuesday morning, but they weren’t the only ones catching some sideway glances.

Two former Swiss secret service agents were keeping a close eye on the America’s Cup trophy, which is in the midst of a month-long worldwide tour. About 75 people also checked out the cup in the club’s model room, an ornate space with hundreds of ship models, including replicas of previous America’s Cup challengers.

The 37-pound pure-silver prize also gets the royal treatment in flight. The trophy travels in a Louis Vuitton trunk and has its own seat between bodyguards Denis Couyoumtzelis and Dario Santus. They all go first class.

The security detail stemmed from an incident in New Zealand in 1997. Benjamin Piri Nathan attacked the trophy with a sledge hammer, damaging it so severely assessors said it would have been a total loss had it been a car. Nathan, who had a record of criminal offenses and claimed his act was politically motivated, was convicted and jailed.

Silversmiths from Garrards, the firm that built the silver trophy in 1848, spent three months restoring the cup free of charge.

Two years ago, Louis Vuitton, which sponsors the qualifying races for the America’s Cup, provided the trunk as a gift in honor of the cup’s 150th anniversary.

Once their international tour wraps up, Couyoumtzelis and Santus will return to their jobs at Securitas, Switzerland’s largest private security company, where they’ll hone their stealth fighting and master shooting skills.

Others in the crowd discussed their sponsorship plans. “There’s a good chance” Audemars Piguet will extend its sponsorship of the team, according to Juliette North, the company’s public relations manager.

Riri, another company that sponsored the Swiss team, also expects to work with Team Alinghi in some capacity. Meanwhile, the team is in talks with potential apparel sponsors and expects to finalize a deal by the end of the year.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.