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1 September 2005, 03:51 pm
The Benchmark
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America's Cup 2007
Malmö, Sweden

Swiss America's Cup Defenders Alinghi swept all before them in the match racing of Malmö-Skåne Louis Vuitton Act 6 in Sweden. Jochen SCHUEMANN (GER) took the helm of SUI-75 for the first time in America's Cup competition, and displayed the control and sailing prowess that has earned him three Olympic titles.
Even when the Swiss conceded a penalty to Luna Rossa (ITA) in their epic showdown, the Defenders retained their composure and used their speed to overtake the Italians and win by 25 seconds. Alinghi's match race record now stands at 22 consecutive matches undefeated. Syndicate head and navigator Ernesto BERTARELLI (SUI) commented after the prizegiving yesterday, 'Right now we're in the zone and the team's doing well. Winning helps you stay in the zone.'

The challengers could do little but agree. 'Alinghi has a fast boat that is well prepared and well sailed, so hats off to them,' said runner-up Chris DICKSON (NZL). 'They're tough.'

DICKSON and BMW ORACLE Racing (USA) endured a torrid week off the water, with Gavin BRADY (NZL) unhappy at being moved off the helm into the tactician's role. Halfway through the Act, the disgruntled New Zealander resigned from the team and flew out of Malmö. But if BRADY's departure affected the team, it did not show in the results. Helmsman DICKSON and replacement tactician Bertrand PACÉ (FRA) turned in a very solid series to win all but their match against Alinghi.

In the battle of the big four, Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa finished third and fourth respectively and these ambitious teams will be asking hard questions of themselves after a difficult week. One thing becoming increasingly clear is that the gap in performance between the 'Division One' and 'Division Two' teams is narrowing. When sailors from the big four say that there are no easy matches in the America's Cup, it used to sound like false modesty, but now you get the sense that they are really beginning to mean it.

Luna Rossa's young Australian helmsman James SPITHILL (AUS) commented, 'It has been a real battle for us all week…it's been a full-on battle. We feel like the other three big teams have taken a real step forwards on us. But I made a lot of mistakes out there, too. We didn't start as well as we usually do. If we don't get the advantage at the start, it makes it quite hard for us to come back from that.'

However, there is still a glass ceiling in the pecking order between fourth spot - bottom of Division One - and fifth overall - seen as first place in the Second Division. In the race for that coveted fifth place, local fans had high hopes of Victory Challenge (SWE) repeating their barnstorming performance from Valencia, Spain two months ago. However, a change of hull from SWE-63 in Spain to SWE-73 seemed to do few favours for Magnus HOLMBERG's (SWE) crew. The Swedes won four of their eleven matches, leaving the local heroes languishing in eighth overall.

Some might have expected the Swedes to tap into some local advantage in the gusty and shifty conditions that predominated on the Øresund, but the opposite was true, according to Argentinean strategist Santiago LANGE, 'In Valencia we sailed in lighter and more stable conditions. This showed us the proper set up for the boat. Here the wind speed and sea conditions are very diverse and we didn't have enough time to get focused on it.'

The Swedish weather certainly tested the meteorological advisers in the sailing teams, but it made for thrillingly unpredictable racing.

While Luna Rossa's performance in Division One may have been a disappointment to Italian fans, there was much to cheer about with the big improvements shown by +39 Challenge (ITA) and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team (ITA). Highlight of the week was +39's victory over Emirates Team New Zealand, helmsman Iain PERCY (GBR) capitalizing on the Kiwis breaking the start line, and keeping a cool head to hold off Dean BARKER (NZL) until the finish. It was the first time a Second Division team had taken a scalp off the big four. If not for a broken jib halyard during a close match against Desafío Español, PERCY and co. might well have finished fifth overall. Spain and +39 tied with six wins apiece, but on countback fifth spot went to the Spanish, with +39 sixth and the Mascalzone crew seventh.

For a team that had showed much promise in last year's Acts, K-Challenge's (FRA) had a difficult week. Thierry PEPONNET's crew will be hoping for greater things in the fleet racing two days from now. The strong and shifting breezes made for tough boathandling and both K-Challenge and United Internet Team Germany suffered serious injuries during the Act, although Hervé CUNNINGHAM (FRA) and Christian BUCK (GER) respectively are expected to make good recoveries from their harrowing accidents.

The ever popular Team Shosholoza (RSA) had much to celebrate with their first match race win in the America's Cup, beating Victory Challenge. The South Africans then went on to beat China Team in the last match of the Act. China Team is still suffering for lack of practice, although their sole victory - against K-Challenge - was one of the most thrilling of the past week.

Andrew Rice. Image, Alinghi celebrate another victory in 2005:© Francesco Ferri/ACM 2005
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