The year may not have started perfectly for Sébastien COL (FRA), with a sixth place finish at the first stop of the World Tour in Marseille, but nevertheless he holds on to his world #1 ranking for the fourth consecutive release. However, COL now has fellow French skipper Mathieu RICHARD (FRA) breathing down his neck.
RICHARD has an impressive record at events held early in the year, and he has again got his season off to a fast start making the final at the Marseille International Match Race and the final four at the Congressional Cup. These back-to-back results help him climb above the Ian WILLIAMS (GBR), the 2007 and 2008 ISAF Match Racing World Champion, and up to #2 in the Rankings.
Outside of the top three skippers, rising star Torvar MIRSKY (AUS) climbs up one place to his best ever Ranking at #4. Congressional Cup winner Johnie BERNTSSON (SWE) also gains one place up #8, leapfrogging Adam MINOPRIO (NZL), who is at #9 after winning the first stage of the 2009 World Match Racing Tour season at Marseille.
The other skipper making gains in the world top 10 is Damien IEHL (FRA). He led the successful French defence of the ISAF Nations Cup trophy in Brazil (RICHARD had led the French team to victory at the 2006 edition) and also made the final four at Marseille and gains one place up to #6.
Another of the Nations Cup skippers, the eventual fourth-place finisher, Alvaro MARINHO (POR) gains 10 places to a career-best Ranking of #20. The biggest climber however is Brazil's Henrique HADDAD. He went in to the Nations Cup with a World Ranking of #80, the lowest of any of the competing skippers. However buoyed by the home supporters, he sprung the surprise of the event to reach the final and come within a whisker of winning the title, leading 2-0 in the final before IEHL came back to win three of the trot. HADDAD's performance earns him a boost up from #80 to his best-ever ranking of #36.
Another skipper making big gains is three-time World Champion and Alinghi helm Ed BAIRD (USA). BAIRD and the Alinghi team returned to the World Tour in Marseille and got off to a solid start with a fifth-place finish. BAIRD, a former world #1 ranked skipper, climbs almost 50 places in this release up to #74.
After joining the Olympic programme for the 2012 London Games a new wave of talent is set to join the Women's Match Racing circuit, but there's currently no doubt as to who's top of the tree. Claire LEROY (FRA) did not dominate throughout at the Grand Final of the ISAF Nations Cup, but at the key moments she and her French team were able to make the tellingly moves and successfully retained the title they won Ireland three years ago. After holding the world #1 spot for close to four years (since May 2005), winning the past two editions of both the ISAF Nations Cup and the ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship, there is no doubt that LEROY is the skipper to beat even at this early stage of the four-year cycle leading up to London 2012.
The French skipper's win at the Nations Cup Grand Final helps give her a huge points advantage over the world #2 ranked Linda RAHM. At #3 is one of the new breed of young and talented skippers currently shaking up the women's circuit. It hasn't taken Lucy MACGREGOR (GBR) long to climb up to her current world #3 ranking and the British skipper showed why she's the reigning European Champion with an impressive showing at the Nations Cup. After winning through the repechage and the semi-final rounds, she eventually came unstuck against LEROY in the final 3-1.
Unlike LEROY, whose main focus has been almost exclusively on match racing over the past five years, the other semi finalists at the Nations Cup in Brazil are both best known for their exploits in Olympic fleets. Anna TUNNICLIFFE (USA) is going through a purple patch and hardly seems capable of putting a foot wrong at the moment. After winning Olympic gold in the Laser Radial at the Beijing Games, she has made a perfect, two-wins-from-two start to the ISAF Sailing World Cup. Taking a break from the Radial to represent the USA at the Grand Final of the Nations Cup, she won the round robin, narrowly lost her semi-final against LEROY but then returned to winning form in petit final to take the bronze medal. The third place finish in Brazil gives her a 17 place boost in this Ranking release up to #20. Giulia CONTI (ITA) lost out to TUNNICLIFFE in the battle for third place at Brazil, but her fourth place finish helps her climb up 14 places to #22. A little further back, Juliana SENFFT of Brazil climbs up 23 places to #35 after impressing with a sixth place finish on her home waters.
The ISAF Women's Match Race Ranking list continues to grow, with well over 200 skippers now Ranked. New entries this month include skippers representing three new nations not previously featured on the Ranking list. Tania ZIMMERMANN (at #96) of Peru, Victoria GUIDI (#164) of El Salvador and Tania ELIAS CALLES (#82), Eliane FIERRO (#88) and Natalia PELLICER LEON (#144), all of Mexico, make their debut on the Rankings following on from the inaugural Ibero-Americano Women's Match Racing Championship held in Mexico last month.
The next release of the ISAF World Match Race Rankings will be on 13 May 2009.
ISAF World Match Race Rankings - www.sailing.org/mrrankings