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18 August 2005, 09:27 am
Altitude Brings Action To St. Moritz
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St. Moritz Match Race 2005
St. Moritz, Engadin, Switzerland

The ISAF Grade 1 St. Moritz Match Race in Engadin, Switzerland bills itself as racing at the top of the world. Watching the crews depart their boats huffing and puffing at the end of the day gave an understanding of the challenges involved with sailing at more than 5,600 feet above sea level. Ed BAIRD (USA), Staffan LINDBERG (FIN) and Mark MENDELBLATT (USA) coped best with the conditions and are the first sailors through to the second round round robin.

'We were outta breath often,' said ISAF Match Racing World Champion BAIRD, of Alinghi (SUI). 'The guys were gulping for air. It makes the Tour de France all that more impressive,' he said of the grueling bike race that traverses the Alps and Pyrenees mountains.

'I was huffing and puffing,' said Team Finland's LINDBERG. 'There's so much going on out there, with the tiller, mainsheet and trying to look around the racecourse. The crew must've had their pulse up around 200.'

BAIRD and LINDBERG joined MENDELBLATT, the event's reigning champion, in advancing to round robin C. The top three crews from group A and B advance to round robin C, from which the top four advance to the semi final round.

MENDELBLATT won the five flight group with a 4-1 record, which included a head to head victory against BAIRD, whom MENDELBLATT credits as teaching him a lot about match racing.

LINDBERG finished 3-2 and also won a tiebreaker to advance. His head to head victory against number three in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings Mathieu RICHARD (FRA) gave him the advantage he needed, but it was not without anxiety. He lost his first two races before winning three straight, and then had to sweat out the final match of flight five.

'It's a lot of pressure to get in the top three in the first round,' LINDBERG said. 'We had to have a lot go our way in the last flight. Mark had to win, Ed had to win and we had to win.'

BAIRD had to beat RICHARD for LINDBERG to move on. If he did not RICHARD would gain the nod. There was pressure on RICHARD , too. If he won and MENDELBLATT lost, RICHARD could have won the round in a tiebreaker, but that quickly became moot.

The round ended with MENDELBLATT defeating Marcel WALSER (SUI) in the first match of the flight, which gave him the round outright. LINDBERG followed by beating Eric MONNIN (SUI) to give himself a chance. Then BAIRD beat RICHARD by two to three boatlengths.

'My adrenaline is up to here,' LINDBERG said, pointing to the brim of the cap on his head. 'Anyone who says this isn't a sport, I'll punch them.'

RICHARD, WALSER and MONNIN advance to round robin D, where they will be joined by the fourth, fifth and sixth place crews from group A.

Despite a lengthy delay to the start of the day while the southerly Maloja wind filled, there was plenty of action once the crews hit the water. There were five come from behind wins and one victory at the finish line after a 270 degree penalty turn.

With the wind blowing ten to 15 knots and gusting up to 20, crews were maxed out on the trapeze at one moment and then squatting into the boat the next. And the shifty conditions kept the crews on their toes.

'We had no idea what the wind was doing at the top of the racecourse,' said MENDELBLATT, who favoured the left side of the beats but also worked the right on occasion.

'It was very shifty out there,' said BAIRD.

The puffs sent some crews planing into the leeward mark with the spinnaker up too late, creating a mad scramble to get the sail down. 'And sometimes our toes were on the spinnaker halyard,' said Mike DRUMMOND, crew for BAIRD.

Others had troubles setting the spinnaker at the windward mark, including MENDELBLATT.

'We're going to have to talk about that,' said the 32 year old skipper sailing with Dean SLATER and Ed SMYTH. 'We might change responsibilities, but I'll let the guys decide that.'

The first start was scheduled for 1100 hours local time, but that was delayed by more than four hours. During that time Lake St. Moritz was often glass calm, but the wait was worth it at the end of the day.

Group A is scheduled to begin its round robin today at 1100.

St. Moritz Match Race Standings

Group B
(After 5 of 5 scheduled flights)

1. Mark MENDELBLATT (USA), 4-1
2. Ed BAIRD (USA), Alinghi (SUI), 4-1
3. Staffan LINDBERG (FIN), Team Finland, 3-2
4. Mathieu RICHARD (FRA), 3-2
5. Marcel WALSER (SUI), 1-4
6. Eric MONNIN (SUI), 0-6

Group A

Sébastien COL (FRA)
Peter HOLMBERG (ISV), Alinghi (SUI)
Ben AINSLIE (GBR), Emirates Team New Zealand
Mark BRADFORD (AUS), BMW Oracle Racing (USA)

Sean McNeill (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Mark MENDELBLATT and crew Ed SMYTH (forward) and Dean SLATER concentrate on a leeward mark rounding:© Guido Cantini
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