BAIRD followed his Worlds victory last year with a terrific series of results, winning three of the next four ISAF Grade 1 events he entered to take what looked to be an insurmountable lead at the top of the Rankings. During that period GILMOUR could not quite find the form to equal the American, securing top five finishes whilst BAIRD was scoring wins. The American's dominance was illustrated at the ISAF Grade 1 Nippon Cup in Hayama, Japan. It is a venue which has produced the best in GILMOUR in the past, not only did he win the ISAF Worlds there, but he has won the Nippon Cup eight times in the past and entered the event as a defending champion. GILMOUR and his team were on top form as the cruised through the round robin undefeated. However it was not to be, they lost their semi final match, and then went down in the petit final whilst BAIRD thrashed Jes GRAM-HANSEN (DEN) 3-0 to take the title.
Following the Nippon Cup in November 2004, GILMOUR took a break, not returning to race in an ISAF Graded event until the ISAF Grade 1 Toscana Elba Cup this May. BAIRD made his reappearance sooner, but was no less convincing in winning the ISAF Grade 1 Marseille International Match Race in March.
|2005 has been a fantastic year
for Peter GILMOUR and his
© Guido Cantini/Sea&See
Come May and the Elba Cup, the top two in the Rankings met for the first time in six months in the first of a series of four events which would see them go head to head and the balance of power in the match racing world shift towards the Australian.
On Elba Island, both sailors' challenges came to an end when they met defending champion Russell COUTTS (NZL). For BAIRD this came at the quarter final stage, whilst GILMOUR held out until the final. After that defeat, GILMOUR turned the screw and went on a winning run which saw him topple BAIRD from the head of the Rankings. At the ISAF Grade 1 Match Race Germany BAIRD and GILMOUR went head to head in the quarter final stage. Both sailors eventually went through to the semis, but GILMOUR won their personal battle and went on to win the event, whilst BAIRD had to settle for third place.
At the ISAF Grade 1 ACI H1 Match Race Cup the pair met again, and this time at the semi final stage. GILMOUR triumphed again, racing to a 2-0 lead and then holding off the American's challenge to win 3-1. Again the Australian went on to overall victory.
Once more the two met in the latter stage at the ISAF Grade 1 Swedish Match Cup, and once more BAIRD was on the receiving end. GILMOUR overcame the American 2-1 in the knock out series to take his semi final place. Victory in Sweden cemented his top spot in the Rankings and places him as undoubtedly the top sailor of the season so far. With GILMOUR in neither of the 2003 and 2004 fields which BAIRD defeated to win the last two ISAF Worlds, the Australian will fancy his chances in Spain.
|Ian WILLIAMS and Sebastian
COL battling at the
Internationaux de France de
Further challenges from France come in the form of Philippe PRESTI, third last year, and Sébastian COL, who already has three wins under his belt this year. James SPITHILL adds a second Australian name to the line up and will be looking to go one better than the runners up spot he scored two years ago. There then follows the Scandinavian challenge with Bjorn HANSEN (SWE), third in 2002 and Staffan LINDBERG (FIN), who has a good record at record ISAF Worlds with a fourth place in 2002 and a fifth last year.
Eugeniy NEUGODNIKOV (RUS) makes the line up after COUTTS was unable to accept his invitation due to prior commitments. Although the Russian may not have the experience of the three times winner, he made the semi finals on his home waters last year and will be looking for a repeat performance in Calpe.
Santiago LOPEZ-VAZQUEZ (ESP) completes the line up as the sailor selected by the host MNA, the Real Federación Española de Vela, the host club Real Club Náutico de Calpe and ISAF. At 568 in the Rankings the Spaniard will not start the Championship as one of the favourites, but with the advantage of the home support he could well prove to be a surprise package.
However it is the duel between World number one GILMOUR and defending champion BAIRD that looks the most enticing. Both have three World titles to their names, and with a string of second and third places between them can be considered the Championship's most successful competitors. Whilst they have met in the latter stages of three events this year, so far a final clash has been avoided. Perhaps that time will arrive in just over a month on the waters of Calpe, Spain with the winner gaining the title 2005 ISAF Match Racing World Champion.
The ISAF Match Racing World Championship 2005 will be contested between the following sailors:
(Current ISAF World Match Race Ranking)