WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of fans swarmed to Auckland airport on Wednesday to welcome Team New Zealand home with the America’s Cup after their 7-1 victory over Oracle Team USA on the Great Sound in Bermuda last week.
The arrival of sport’s oldest trophy came two days after New Zealand’s government promised NZ$5 million in funding to keep the team together in order to prepare for the title defense, likely to be in 2021.
A parade through central Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, is planned for Thursday. A similar parade in 1995, when the country won the America’s Cup for the first time, drew an estimated 350,000 people.
The victory is expected to provide a boost to New Zealand, with early estimates putting the contribution at NZ$1 billion in economic growth.
“Thank you for all the support, it means the world to us and being a proud Kiwi, growing up here and watching teams race for the America’s Cup and then to actually bring the Cup home is something that has blown us away,” helmsman Peter Burling told the crowd at the airport.
The plane carrying the team and the trophy, which occupied two seats in first class, was drenched by fire rescue trucks as it taxied onto the runway apron.
The local Maori tribe Ngati Whatua also performed an official welcome for the team.
Skipper Glenn Ashby said the victory had buried some ghosts from 2013 when Team New Zealand held an 8-1 lead over Oracle, only for Jimmy Spithill to engineer one of the greatest comebacks in sport to win the next eight races and retain the trophy.
“It’s largely redemption, for the whole team and the country, from San Francisco,” said Ashby, the only remaining member of the 2013 sailing team on the boat in Bermuda.
“The group of guys we went through this journey with are an absolutely special set of people and to have them all standing here with me now is a wonderful feeling. I’m very, very proud.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)