The first rankings for 2005 will be released under the proposed evolution of the calculation, so next year it will be interesting to watch how this affects the current skippers at the top of the tree.
Ed BAIRD (USA) won his fourth top graded ISAF event in Japan and as 2004 kicked off with Polish skipper Karol JABLONSKI holding fort at the top, it ended with Ed BAIRD in the same enviable position. Sitting out the last America's Cup in order to provide top level commentary on what is a competitive yet tough-to-watch sport, Baird clearly had an itch to get back into competitive match racing and came back to the circuit with a vengeance, winning both the ISAF World Match Racing Championships and finishing with podium positions at a host of other top graded events in 2003.
This year he has built on that success. With the return of many America's Cup skippers and syndicate chiefs into the match racing throng, few could have predicted yet another dominant season for the American, yet Baird has pulled off an impressive run of victories, defending his world title and finishing-up with the Nippon Cup. He now holds a 200 point lead over second placed Peter GILMOUR (AUS).
Gilmour himself has steadily climbed the rankings over the last two years with his Pizza-La Sailing team. He started 2003 in the mid 80's in the ISAF World Match Race rankings and since then has proved time and time again that there is little substitute for a dedicated, consistent crew, and impressive team work. In 2003 he won the Investors Guaranty Presentation of the King Edward VII Gold Cup in Bermuda, along with the Nippon Cup and Match Race Germany and he ended 2003 in 17 in the rankings, a jump from 86 six months earlier. Baird's dominance has been the only thing to slow Gilmour's rise to the top however and he rounds out 2004 in second place.
Third place in the rankings goes to another Australian Skipper, the young and aggressive James SPITHILL. The former OneWorld skipper has sat in the top five for the last two years yet despite some impressive runs of form has never quite made it to the top. The closest he came was in the June and October 2004 when he popped into second position, albeit for a couple of months.
It is an interesting mix of nations in the top twenty and the welcome sight of Russell COUTTS, America's Cup winner and ISAF World Sailor Of the Year winner in 2003, in the top ten could lead to an impressive fight for the top of the rankings in 2005.
Marie BJORLING (SWE) retains her lead at the top of the Women's match Race Rankings going at the end of 2004. With a victory in the Swedish Match Cup in 2004, as well as the Lysekil Women's Match Cup and the Nordic Championship, she has come back form a rankings holiday to quickly jump back to the top of the leaderboard ahead of French skipper Claire LEROY.
Leroy herself has regained second position in the rankings ahead of Lotte MELDGAARD-PEDERSEN (DEN), She has competed in no fewer than ten graded events in the last 12 months and her string of successes include a victory at the Rolex Osprey Cup and podium finishes in no fewer than 6 of the other events in which she has completed. These results coupled with three Grade 1 victories in 2003 confirm her position towards the top of the rankings.
Meldgaard-Pedersen sits in a solid third place in the rankings ahead of another Scandinavian skipper, Jenny AXHEDE (DEN). Women's Match Racing World Champion Sally BARKOW finishes off 2004 in 14 place in the rankings, let down somewhat by the fact she has but competed in three graded events in the last 12 months. Over the coming months however, with the implementation of tweaks to the calculation system for rankings, anything could happen in this fiercely competitive circuit.