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5 March 2014, 01:50 pm
Ukrainian Olympic Medalist Rodion Luka Wins Budget Marine Match Race
Racing identical Jeanneau Sun Fast 20s
Racing identical Jeanneau Sun Fast 20s

Budget Marine Match Race
St Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

Capping off a solid day of competition against an international field of match racers hailing from Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and the Caribbean, Rodion Luka from the Ukraine won the 6th edition of the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup with a 2-1 victory over Russian skipper Eugeny Nikiforov.
A silver medalist in the 49er Class at the 2004 Olympics, Luka was joined by another Ukrainian Olympian, Igor Matvienko, who won gold for his country aboard a 470 in the 1996 Games. Dmitry Potosky rounded out Luka's winning three-man crew, who earned the $5,000 first-place check for their efforts. Nikiforov and his team of Yuri Firsov and Viacheslav Ermolenko took home the $3,000 purse for second place. In the petit final, Poland's Przemyslaw Tarnacki edged Colin Rathbun from the British Virgin Islands by a 2-1 score to secure the $1,000 prize for third.

"I have a really good team," said Luka. "We had a couple of lucky moments that really helped us. We didn't expect to win. We just did our best." Luka also said he wasn't a trained match racer, but had come to believe he could make a mark in the sport after coaching Team Nika, a Russian boat that competes in the RC 44 class Match Race Circuit.

"Over the last couple of years, I've been to a lot of match-racing events as a coach," he said. "I was looking at it from the outside but I could also see how it worked. Once we had the boathandling down and that isn't a problem, you can begin to play chess, which is what match racing is."

Luka also said the fluky conditions, particularly in the morning hours, played to his strength. "It was tricky and you had to pay attention, but I like such conditions," he said. "I grew up with river sailing. So all these wind shifts of 30 to 40 degrees were okay. Before the start you had to make a decision to go right or left, depending on where the next shift would come from. And we had good starts all day, which are important."

The Russian skipper, Nikiforov, sailed an outstanding series, tearing through the round-robin tournament with a perfect score, including a victory over Luka in the 10th and final flight of racing. It was Luka's first loss of the day and it set up an unexpected match in the best-of-three race finals. And after the first race, when Nikiforov overtook Luka on the second of three windward legs, and then held on for the victory to remain undefeated for the series, it appeared to be the Russian's day. Nikiforov is the only sailor to have raced in every edition of the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup, but never finished higher than third, in 2012.

But it turned out Luka still had some comeback magic of his own.

Race 2 was temporarily postponed after the pin-end buoy of the starting line went adrift, but once it was reset, Luka took the start by six seconds and never looked back, leading Nikiforov around every mark of the three-lap course to register a wire-to-wire victory to knot the finals at 1-1. With solid breeze now coursing over the racecourse, providing ideal 10-12 knot wind conditions, the stage was set for a winner-take-all third and final race.

After such a dramatic day of yacht racing, it proved to be an anticlimactic finish. Luka and Nikiforov were in close quarters during the entire pre-start cat-and-mouse sequence, but with less than a minute before the start, the Russian blinked and Luka was able to gain a slight advantage. "They made a mistake and we got a half boat length ahead," said Luka. "We were quite lucky. After that, it was quite easy. We got the first shift and took control."

Luka had a solid lead at the start that he built on throughout the race. Luka extended his 19-second lead at the first weather mark to a dominating 39- second advantage at the second one. From there, it was only a matter of covering Nikiforov to the finish line, which Luka did with poise and aplomb. When he crossed the line he shared high fives with his triumphant teammates, Matvienko and Potosky. They were worthy champions.

Still, it was also an especially tough way for Nikiforov to lose. "He dominated all the way through the round robin and got to the final race," said Robbie Ferron, the founder of Budget Marine. "One silly mistake put him in second place. I really feel badly for him. All day he was so technically correct and disciplined."

It was a full day of intense match racing for the eight skippers and their crews, sailed aboard identical Jeanneau Sun Fast 20s in tricky wind conditions that built through the day in the turquoise lagoon of Simpson Bay. By virtue of his World #8 ISAF World Match Race Ranking, Tarnacki, from Poland, started the day as top seed. And Tarnacki held on to beat Rathbun, a previous Budget Marine Match Racing Cup winner, for the third podium spot. The remainder of the field consisted of Luc Duponteil, from Guadeloupe, St. Maarten's Frits Bus, Andy Budgen from the U.K. and Gilles Rabaud from France.
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