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24 March 2009, 09:43 am
45th Congressional Cup Underway
Four-time winner Rod DAVIS weighs in with Camille DANIELS
Four-time winner Rod DAVIS, tactician for Adam MINOPRIO this time, weighs in with Camille DANIELS

Congressional Cup 2009
Long Beach, USA

What do the Masters golf tournament and the Congressional Cup match racing regatta have in common?
Tradition, certainly. A Masters golf winner gets a Green Jacket while a Congressional Cup winner receives a Crimson Blazer, both proud distinctions that set the two events apart in their particular niches of the sporting world at a high a level of esteem.

"This event is special," says Rod DAVIS (NZL), who has won four Crimson Blazers and returns this week as tactician for New Zealand's Adam MINOPRIO in Long Beach Yacht Club's 45th renewal of a sailing original.

A double round-robin featuring 10 sailors from seven countries, including top-ranked Sébastien COL of France, Olympic triple gold medallist AINSLIE of Great Britain and US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Terry HUTCHINSON, runs from Tuesday through to Friday off the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, followed by semi finals and finals for the top four Saturday - and who says sailing isn't a spectator sport?

The pier east of downtown Long Beach will have bleacher seating within rooting distance of the action, free parking at the beach end and shuttle service starting Wednesday, all free of charge. Racing is scheduled to start at noon each day, wind conditions permitting.

It's been 16 years since DAVIS won the last of his four Crimson Blazers - two for American teams and two for New Zealand, his country of residence since 1987.

"I've coached three of these guys," DAVIS said, referring to his work with Team New Zealand's America's Cup programme the last few years that involved AINSLIE, HUTCHINSON and MINOPRIO at various times.

But he isn't sure the younger competitors are aware of the role the Congressional Cup played in building world-class match racing by introducing on-water umpiring to the game in 1988 and sustaining a Grade 1 level of competition through the years.

AINSLIE is 32, while MINOPRIO at 23 became the youngest winner ever on the World Match Racing Tour when he won the year's opening event at Marseille earlier this month.

The Congressional Cup is not a member of the WMRT, but "it was the first match racing event of any notoriety for a very long time," DAVIS said. "And what sets it apart even now is its yacht club base. Most of the other events are commercially based, but it's not the same feel."

Also, instead of staying in yet another hotel - some say they don't really have homes - Congressional Cup teams are lodged in the homes of LBYC members.

"They like that," DAVIS said. "It also saves them a lot of money."

Speaking of . . . the total purse here is potentially worth $83,500, including prize money through 10 places, Saturday's fleet race for non-sailoff qualifiers, six $2,000 Oceanaut watches to the winning crew, plus an Acura TSX or $30,000 to any skipper that can sweep every race before winning overall.

DAVIS, who won an Olympic gold medal for the USA and a silver for New Zealand, won his four Congressional Cup titles four years apart from 1981 through 1993, embellishing a list of historic sailing celebrities such as Ted TURNER (USA), Bill FICKER (USA), Dennis CONNER (USA), Peter GILMOUR (AUS) and Chris DICKSON (NZL), since extended by the only other quadruple Crimson winners in recent years, Peter HOLMBERG (ISV) and Gavin BRADY (NZL).

"The list has some pretty big names on it," DAVIS said. "The only thing that might compare is winners of the Star class Worlds."

But even they don't have Crimson Blazers.

The 2009 Congressional Cup Fleet
(ISAF World Match Race Ranking - skipper, nation)

1 - Sébastien COL, France
3 - Mathieu RICHARD, France
6 - Philippe PRESTI, France
8 - Adam MINOPRIO, New Zealand
9 - Johnie BERNTSSON, Sweden
19 - Staffan LINDBERG, Finland
53 - Ben AINSLIE, Great Britain
62 - Brian ANGEL, USA
76 - Francesco BRUNI, Italy
Rich Roberts
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