Last week the first ISAF World Match Racing Rankings were released and posted on the ISAF website.
As well as seeing where skippers in both the Open and Women's Rankings are positioned against one another going into this action packed year, the rankings also serve to determine who will be invited to the ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship, to be held in Annapolis in June.
16 teams will be invited to the championship, being contested in J22's from Eastport Yacht Club, and supported by BoatUS - Sponsors of the annual Santa Maria Cup, ISAF Grade 1 Women's Match Racing event.
With this latest rankings release, there is not much ostensible movement, although in the short term, Jesper RADICH (DEN) has regained second place behind Karol JABLONSKI (POL), long-time leader of the rankings. Ed BAIRD (USA) has dropped to third.
What is interesting about this ranking release is what the current ranking scores suggest for the next 12 months on the match racing circuit. To realise what might happen we need to look a little lower down the rankings, to where the likes of James SPITHILL (AUS), Peter GILMOUR (USA), and potentially Gavin BRADY (NZL) are sitting.
The rankings are based on a rolling 365-day cycle, with events either placed in the most recent 365-days (year) or the second 365 days, depending on when they happened. There is a higher points weighting on events in the first 365 days. A skipper's ranking score is calculated as the best four events from each year.
Both Spithill and Gilmour had some time off from the match racing circuit in 2002 to compete in the America's Cup, so they both only carry two events in the second year of their score, a situation that is likely to change over the next few months. Spithill returned to the circuit early in the summer of 2003 and had a fantastic run of results from ISAF Grade 1 events - winning the Cento Cup, second in the ACI HT Mobile Cup, and third in the Congressional Cup. All three of these events will move into his second year score by the rankings released on 24 June, and as you can see from the points he accumulated in 2003 (by clicking here), he will be knocking on Jablonski's door.
Gilmour came back to the circuit late last year, but with victories in both the Nippon Cup, and the Investors Guaranty Presentation of the King Edward VII Gold Cup, he has a strong basis for a good move, especially if he continues that kind of form into this year's events on the circuit.
Gavin BRADY is another big mover at the beginning of 2004, making a first appearance in the top twenty since March 2003. He will need to pull off some good performances in 2004 if he is to continue to climb.
All in all, by the middle of 2003, the rankings are set to become an open and hotly contested affair. It will be the early part of the year that will prove to be a defining period, especially when we come to the first Grade 1 event of 2004 - The Marseille International Match Race, from 10-14 March
This release is important for the Women's circuit, as it determines who are likely to be the 16 skippers who will battle Malin MILLBOURN (SWE) for the title of 2004 ISAF Women's Match Racing World Champion.
16 of the world's best skippers will be given invites to the Championship. Defending World Champion Malin MILLBOURN is automatically granted an entry, as well as the remaining top 14 in this week's ranking release. There is one wild-card entry.
As is expected at this time of year, there has been very little movement in the rankings. Marie BJORLING still tops the list, and in fact the top four remains the same from the final release of 2003. There is some movement a little further down the rankings though, with the biggest movement coming from Carol CRONIN (USA), who has leapfrogged no less than seven rival skippers to pop into the top twenty, rising from 25 to 17.
Paula LEWIN (BER) continues, alongside fellow countryman Peter BROMBY, to hold the flag for Bermudan Mach Racing, and snuffles from 12 into eighth in the latest release, replacing Malin KALLSTROM (SWE) in the top ten.
The next ISAF World Match Race Rankings for both the Open and Women's Circuit will be released on 17 March 2004, following the ISAF Grade 1 Marseille International Match Race.