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12 April 2002, 10:19 am
Holmberg Stumbles as Dickson Sweeps Into Contention
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Congressional Cup

If nothing changes, Peter Holmberg, Ken Read, Dean Barker and Scott Dickson will be in the semifinals of the 38th Congressional Cup Saturday.
Trouble is, the status hasn't been quo all week, least of all Thursday. Holmberg was humbled, Read and Barker just hung in there and Dickson was devastating. The local hope sailed back into contention by winning all four of his races, including closing victories against Holmberg, the world's top-ranked match racer, and Barker, who leads New Zealand's America's Cup defense.

Scott Dickson, 31, isn't ranked, doesn't compete on the international Swedish Match Tour, and no billionaire has hired him to sail for the America's Cup But with five matches remaining he is tied with Read for second place at 8-5. They are now within reach of Holmberg (10-3), who was unbeaten in the first round robin but slipped back to the fleet by losing his first three races. He dodged a shutout in a final shootout with Prada's Rod Davis, who led Holmberg into the finish but couldn't shed a penalty he owed.

Barker is at 7-6, with a fierce and elite flotilla of Davis, Jes Gram-Hansen, Gavin Brady and Andy Green close astern at 6-7.

Thursday's racing was delayed for an hour and a half under a gloomy marine layer, waiting for wind to fill, and then as the sun broke through the clouds the wind built to 12 knots by day's end, ideal conditions for the Catalina 37s.

Dickson's older brother Chris should be proud. He probably told him so. He was standing right behind him all day, calling tactics and watching Scott, 10 years his junior, handle some of the planet's top sailors the way he did in the days when he was ranked No. 1 and won a couple of Congressional Cups.

"Chris is phenomenal," Scott said. "Without him we would get to a certain winning form. I worked real hard to put this crew together. But with Chris you get there at turbo speed. He's a big accelerator in getting the most out of the team."

Having said that, Scott Dickson added, "There are four other guys helping me to produce some of my best match racing." Those would be Ben Beer, Mark Callahan, Peter Heck and Jimmy Slaughter.

Chris Dickson served the same role four years ago when Scott finished second to Holmberg in the Congressional Cup, but it was a closely guarded secret that he would be here until he showed up unannounced the day before racing started. Besides holding a watch and noting wind shifts, he has been seen hoisting the spinnaker and performing other routine tasks.

The day also was gratifying for Green, a member of Britain's GBR Challenge America's Cup campaign who won three of his four races.

"We're launching our boat, White Lightning, in Cowes Friday," Green said. "It's the biggest day in British sailing in 16 years [since the country's last America's Cup effort]. That was my biggest worry. There will be a thousand people in Cowes tomorrow, and to have me here at the bottom of the heap would send the wrong signal. Now that we're back in the hunt, everybody will get a boost in confidence."

Confidence shouldn't be Holmberg's problem, despite Thursday's hiccups.

"I have a two-game lead?" he said with mild surprise afterward. "Beautiful. It's funny, because I had the most quiet, docile night I ever had, went running this morning and felt great. But I will say I was out of my groove today."

The day opened ominously when France's struggling Luc Pillot (3-10) and Green, the two stragglers at the time, stunned Read and Holmberg, respectively.

Now pressure is on. Holmberg needs only one win in the last five races to reach Saturday's best-of-three semifinals, but the other contenders are wide-open to ambush.

The action in the Long Beach outer harbor may be viewed from the end of Belmont Pier, where there is commentary for spectators at no charge. Racing starts at noon each day, wind conditions permitting.

Results (skippers listed by America's Cup affiliations or home bases):

Luc Pillot, Le Defí Areva, France, def. Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner, USA, 0:28.
Rod Davis, Prada, Italy, def. Jes Gram-Hansen, Denmark, 0:30.
Gavin Brady, Prada, Italy, def. Dean Barker, Team New Zealand, 0:27.
Andy Green, GBR Challenge, UK, def. Peter Holmberg, Oracle Racing, USA, 1:08.
Scott Dickson, Long Beach, def. Ed Baird, St. Petersburg, Fla., 0:22.

Brady d. Gram-Hansen, 0:11.
Barker d. Green, 0:15.
Read d. Holmberg, 0:31.
Dickson d. Pillot, 0:07.
Davis d. Baird, 0:21.

Barker d. Read, 0:05.
Dickson d. Holmberg, 0:03.
Pillot d. Davis (did not finish).
Gram-Hansen d. Baird, 0:17.
Green d. Brady (DNF).

Holmberg d. Davis (DNF).
Baird d. Pillot, 0:15.
Green d. Gram-Hansen, 0:26.
Read d. Brady, 0:25. Dickson d. Barker, 0:01.

STANDINGS (after 13 of 18 rounds)
1. Holmberg, 10-3;
2. tie between Read and Dickson, 8-5;
3. Barker, 7-6;
4. tie among Davis, Gram-Hansen, Green and Brady, 6-7;
9. Baird, 5-8;
10. Pillot, 3-10.

photo: Scott Dickson, 4-0 on the day, has the upper hand on Congressional Cup leader Peter Holmberg.
Rich Roberts/News Editor
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