As a renowned sailing nation, Sweden has produced a number of top skippers in modern sailing, with greats such as Pelle Pettersson and Magnus Holmberg dominating in their respective disciplines in recent times.
Holmberg believes that the current crop of Swedish match racers are not only helping to bring through the next generation of Swedish Champions, but have what it takes to challenge the world's best for the ISAF Match Racing World Championship title themselves.
Sweden's Magnus Holmberg is a three-time Olympian, multiple European and World Championship medallist and has embarked on two America's Cup campaigns. Holmberg knows what it takes to succeed in the competitive world of match racing and in reference to Sweden's Alpari World Match Racing Tour prospects for 2012, he said, "At this season's Tour, Sweden will be strong with Hansen and Berntsson both having the opportunity to prove themselves against the world's best. They're both good sailors but definitely still have something to prove in taking a title and it will be exciting to see how the season unfolds for them.
"Match Cup Sweden is a really important event for us and it's vital for us to have these guys challenging the top international teams as an inspiration for our young sailors. We have some great talent coming through and we need role models at the highest level for them to emulate."
The 2000-2001 Alpari World Match Racing Tour Champion and former ISAF World Match Race Ranking World #1 thinks that Johnie Berntsson has the ability to defy the odds and prevent Ian Williams from taking his record fourth ISAF Match Racing World Championship title, a feat only accomplished by Australia Peter Gilmour previously.
Holmberg, said, "Hansen has been around for a while now and consistently features in the world top 10 but Berntsson's form at the end of the 2011 season suggests that he is capable of winning the Tour and I wouldn't be surprised if he took the overall victory.
"Even though 2012 is just his second season as a Tour Card Holder, he has competed in and won Tour events previously and the team have worked hard for the chance to mount a serious challenge for the ISAF Match Racing World Championship title.
"Whilst Ian Williams is obviously a great sailor and is very experienced, Berntsson has no pressure on him and goes into the season as underdog for the title. Being one of the newer Tour Card Holders could actually work in his favour if the team's enthusiasm and focus to win remains through all the events they enter."
Johnie Berntsson is one of the in-form sailors on the Tour, having placed second at the final two events in 2011 - the Argo Gold Cup and Monsoon Cup. After a tough start to the 2011 Tour season, Berntsson Sailing Team finished third overall and went on to win the national title of 'Swedish Sailors of the Year' in Feb 2012. Berntsson, who set himself the challenge of taking the ISAF Match Racing World Championship title within three years of holding a Tour Card, said, "The world title would be the pinnacle for our team. Having already taken titles in Scandinavia, the World Match Racing Tour would be the ultimate achievement for us and it's something we will work to make happen.
"We always do our best to compete as role models for the younger Swedish match racers and we know there will be a lot of eyes on us so that responsibility is an added incentive to do well."
2012 Alpari World Match Racing Tour Calendar:
Stage 1: May 23 - 28 - Match Race Germany, Langenargen, Germany
Stage 2: May 29 - June 3 - Korea Match Cup, Gyeonggi, South Korea
Stage 3: July 2 - 7 - Stena Match Cup Sweden, Marstrand, Sweden
Stage 4: July 10 - 15 - Chicago Match Cup, Chicago, USA
Stage 5: July 24 - 29 - Portimao Portugal Match Cup, Portimao, Portugal
Stage 6: Aug 28 - Sep 2 - St. Moritz Match Race, St. Moritz, Switzerland
Stage 7: Sep 24 - 29 - Match Race France, Marseille, France
Stage 8: Oct 1 - 7 - Argo Group Gold Cup, Hamilton, Bermuda
Stage 9: Dec 4 - 9 - Monsoon Cup, K.Terengganu, Malaysia
Alpari World Match Racing Tour Website