With the top three leading teams in the World Match Racing Tour having gotten no further than the quarter-final round at last week's King Edward VII Gold Cup presented by Argo Group, the race tightens in the final push for the World Championship.
In this eighth event on the nine-stage Tour, Johnie BERNTSSON
(SWE) and his Berntsson Sailing Team of Johan BACKMAN
, Björn LUNDGREN
, and Daniel WALLBERG
masterfully sailed the International One Designs (IODs) used for this event to a 3-1 win in the finals against Adam MINOPRIO
(NZL) and his Emirates Team New Zealand/BlackMatch Racing Team, leaving Ian WILLIAMS
(GBR) and Team Pindar back in fifth, Sébastien COL
(FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge in seventh, and Mathieu RICHARD
(FRA) and his French Match Racing Team/Team French Spirit in eighth.
For regular teams on the Tour, the broad 24-team format of the Gold Cup is a minefield of potential traps to stop the unwary who may fall to non-regular teams in the field. The three groups of eight teams competing here is twice that of most other Tour events, where usually 12 teams compete in a round robin, followed by quarter-finals, semis, and finals. This format carries with it the Royal Bermuda YCs long tradition of giving opportunities for promising but lower-ranked teams an opportunity to compete against the best in the game. This year's Gold Cup, for example, had the ISAF Grade 2 Knickerbocker Cup as its qualifier, which was won by Takumi NAKAMURA
And lo and behold the scheme worked, as all three top Tour teams fell over in the quarter-finals to obviously talented but currently lower-ranked rivals who made it through to the final four. In this round, young Kiwi MINOPRIO and his Emirates Team New Zealand/BlackMatch Racing Team met Ben AINSLIE
(GBR) and his Team Origin, taking all five matches to defeat the Olympic Champion, and BERNTSSON beat Mattias RAHM
(SWE) and his Stena Bulk Sailing Team in a battle royale among the Swedes which went 3-0 to BERNTSSON.
On a roll, BERNTSSON then went on to defeat an aggressive MINOPRIO in four matches to take the win in only his second Tour event of the year. Besides earning an impressive $50,000 prize, a full half of the total purse, BERNTSSON also becomes the first Swede to win the Gold Cup, joining a select list of match race legends like Russell COUTTS
(NZL), Chris DICKSON
(NZL), and Peter GILMOUR
(AUS), the last of which he actually crewed for earlier this year in Marstrand's Match Cup Sweden. MINOPRIO's showing was also impressive, being only his second Tour appearance in the final four this year, and first in the finals among seven events sailed.
These giant-killing performances - along with those of other young teams like Torvar MIRSKY
(AUS) finishing as runner-up in Match Cup Sweden, and Keith SWINTON
(AUS), another 22-year old Australian from Perth, getting to the quarter finals here in Bermuda - shows that the talent pool out there for match race sailing lies deep indeed. The toppling at the top has not changed the overall Tour standings among the top three but brings MINOPRIO and MIRSKY, even on fourth place, into play.
And while the event in Bermuda was a tremendous opportunity for teams which don't normally compete on the Tour go up against the world's best, the focus will now shift towards who will be in a good position to win the World Championship.
The structure of the ISAF Match Racing World Championship
is that skippers earn points towards the title at each stage of the Tour. A total of 100 points are awarded to the top eight finishers: 25 points for first, 20 for second, 15 for third, 12 for fourth, 10 for fifth, 8 for sixth, 6 for seventh and 4 for eighth. Skippers will be allowed to count a maximum of five finishes plus those points earned at the final stage at the Monsoon Cup regardless of the number of stages they've raced. This finale, held over 3-7 December, will award 1.5 times the points to the top eight and it is a non-discard event.
So using this structure on the results to date, the race for the World Crown has tightened the leaderboard standings, and no team's position is safe. On 92 points, Team Pindar's lead has shrunk to only 4 points over COL, who in turn is 11 points ahead of RICHARD. On strategy going into the final event, RICHARD said he will be "very aggressive because we have all to gain and nothing to lose" compared to last year when he had a slim lead in points over WILLIAMS, who ended up winning the overall title.
But an event in Malaysia that went like that in Bermuda might very well unseat the Tour leaders even more, since there are so many points at stake and a good result from young teams like MIRSKY and his Mirsky Racing Team and MINOPRIO, who are tied on points, very well might vault them over the top and in to the medal zone.
World Match Racing Tour Leaderboard
(Top ten teams after Stage 8 of 9)
1. Ian WILLIAMS (GBR), Team Pindar, 92 points
2. Sébastien COL (FRA), French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge, 88
3. Mathieu RICHARD (FRA), French Match Racing Team/ French Team Spirit, 77
4. Adam MINOPRIO (NZL), ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing Team, 53
4. Torvar MIRSKY (AUS), Mirsky Racing Team, 53
6. Magnus HOLMBERG (SWE), Victory Challenge, 51
7. Mattias RAHM (SWE), Stena Bulk Sailing Team, 46
8. Paolo CIAN (ITA), Team Shosholoza, 43
9. Bjorn HANSEN (SWE), Alandia Sailing Team, 40
9. Johnie BERNTSSON (SWE), Berntsson Sailing Team, 40
ISAF Match Racing World Championship - www.sailing.org/matchworlds