|© Gilles Martin-Raget|
The defending back to back champion, Ed BAIRD (USA), is one of the biggest names of the match racing scene. A three time World Champion and 1995 USA Rolex Yachtman of the Year, he held the number one spot in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings for nearly a year from July 2004-June 2005. Since his victory in Russia last year BAIRD has kept up a consistent level of top class performance as skipper of teams from America's Cup Defenders Alinghi (SUI), highlighted this year with wins at ISAF Grade 1 events in France and most recently, Switzerland.
The win at St. Moritz will be a welcome confidence boast for the American who, after an impressive start to the year, has had to play second fiddle to Peter GILMOUR (AUS) for most of the season. Not only was victory important for his Alinghi team on their home waters, but it gives BAIRD a reminder of the taste of victory as he heads to Calpe.
|© Guido Cantini/SEA&SEE|
ISAF World Match Race Ranking: 1
Best ISAF Worlds Result: Winner 1998, 1997, 1990
2004 ISAF Worlds Result: Did not compete
Best Results of 2005: Winner - ISAF Grade 1 Swedish Match Cup, ISAF Grade 1 ACI H1 Match Race Cup, ISAF Grade 1 Match Race Germany
One of the most knowledgeable competitors on the circuit with experience racing with five America's Cup syndicates, nobody has had more success at the ISAF Match Racing Worlds than Peter GILMOUR. The Australian has lifted the title three times and finished in the top three on several other occasions during the 1990s and late 1980s. However this impressive list of honours has a slightly historical look about it. Although GILMOUR has had plenty of success on the match racing circuit in the last five years, none of it has come at the ISAF Worlds. Following his third victory in 1998 he returned to claim third spot a year later and since then has not competed, making his appearance in Calpe, his first at the ISAF Match Racing World Championship for over five years.
Despite his absence from the competition, GILMOUR starts the Worlds in Calpe as one of the hot favourites. The Australian has been on superb form this season with a peak during the height of the European summer seeing him record three straight ISAF Grade 1 event victories and claim the top spot in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings.
With his vast experience and the form book on his side the Australian looks set to be a formidable opponent in Calpe, and what is more, will be going for a record fourth World title.
Mathieu RICHARD (FRA) announced his arrival on the match racing stage with his third place at the Worlds in 2003. Since then the young Frenchman has risen as high as number three in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings and this year has seen him confirm his talent with high place finishes at top ISAF Grade 1 events.
Having won the last open match racing event held in Calpe, the ISAF Grade 2 EuroSAF Open Match Racing Championship last year, RICHARD will start the Championship feeling confident of his knowledge of the waters. He will be looking to use that experience to his advantage and in the process fulfil the promise he has already shown.
The second Australian competitor in Spain, James SPITHILL presents the excitement and potential of youth against fellow countryman, Peter GILMOUR's experience. A member of the Luna Rossa Italian America's Cup challengers, it has not taken the young Australian long to make his mark on the match racing circuit, with his runners up spot to Ed BAIRD (USA) at the ISAF Worlds in 2003 the highlight of an already successful career.
2005 has not quiet been marked by the same height of achievement so far and has seen his ISAF World Match Race Ranking slip from three to five. Third at the ISAF Grade 1 Toscana Elba Cup in Italy was an impressive start to the European season, especially considering the calibre of the top two in that competition, Russell COUTTS (NZL) and GILMOUR. Another third in Italy, this time at the ISAF Grade 1 Trofeo Challenge Roberto Trombini, was less satisfying with SPITHILL falling at the semi final stage in his attempt to defend his title. SPITHILL applied a little extra sparkle to his sailing year as he skippered the Luna Rossa team to victory on their home waters at the ISAF Grade 2 The Heat yesterday to provide him with the perfect preparation for Calpe.
Sébastian COL is one of three Frenchmen and two debutants at this year's ISAF Worlds. He is riding the crest of a wave this year having won four events, more than any other competitor in Calpe. That success has seen him rise to number six in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings and COL will be looking for a strong performance in Spain to confirm his place as one of the top sailors on the match racing circuit.
None of COL's victories this year have come in ISAF Grade 1 events, although he has beaten several of the other competitors who he will face in Calpe on his way to those four wins. There will be no better stage than Calpe for COL to prove he can succeed at the very highest level of competition.
After taking a sabbatical from his job as a lawyer to see whether he could succeed on the match racing circuit, Ian WILLIAMS has been improving steadily all season and seemingly has peaked at the perfect time with two recent ISAF Grade 1 event victories. The year began well for the Brit with top spot in one of the ISAF Grade 3 JPMorgan Fleming Winter Challenge matches. He then plunged headlong into the match racing circuit, regularly appearing at the top ISAF Grade 1 events and consequently facing off against the top sailors on the circuit.
Initially success was hard to come by, but WILLIAMS has shown he is a quick learner. He proved his faith in his talent was not misplaced with his first ISAF Grade 1 event victory at the Internationaux de France de Match Racing, defeating Eugeniy NEUGODNIKOV (RUS) in the final. He then followed that with an impressive opening round robin display at the ISAF Grade 1 St. Moritz Match Race against a field that included three time and reigning World Champion Ed BAIRD (USA). He then went on to win the final ISAF Grade 1 event before the ISAF Worlds, the Sopot Match Race, where he again overcame NEUGODNIKOV in the title match. Now WILLIAMS will be looking to continue his winning run in Calpe.
Another successful year for Paolo CIAN has cemented his position as the top Italian in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings, and as one of the top sailors on the match racing circuit. His best performances have both come on his home waters with wins at the ISAF Grade 1 Trofeo Challenge Roberto Trombini and ISAF Grade 1 Albaria Cento Cup.
In the past CIAN, a helmsman for the Mascalzone Latino (ITA) America's Cup syndicate in 2003, has failed to get going at the ISAF Worlds, never getting beyond the ninth position he has achieved the last two years. Now the Italian will be looking to show he can produce his home form on the Calpe waters
Since his terrific performance at last year's ISAF Worlds, where sailing on his home waters he reached the semi final stage, Eugeniy NEUGODNIKOV has been building on his success. Throughout the year he has been in or around the top ten in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings and since victory at the ISAF Grade 2 Match Race Lugano has been showing some of his best form. Were it not for Ian WILLIAMS (GBR), he would already have two ISAF Grade 1 event victories under his belt this season, having lost out twice to the Brit in the final races. At the ISAF Grade 1 Sopot Match Race particularly, the title could have gone either way, with WILLIAMS just edging the final 3-2.
After his recent run of success NEUGODNIKOV has reclaimed a top ten spot in the Rankings and will be aiming to prove his position at last year's Worlds was no one-off.
|© Guido Cantini|
Staffan LINDBERG has two victories under his belt this year after winning in the cold conditions at the ISAF Grade 2 JPMorgan Fleming Winter Challenge Final early in the season and then claiming the national title at the ISAF Grade 3 Finnish Open Match Racing Championship.
The Finn has an impressive record at the ISAF Worlds. He finished fourth three years ago and last year just missed out on a semi final place. This time round he will be aiming to make that extra step forward to the medal positions.
|© Dan Ljungsvik|
After a sixth place at the ISAF Worlds in Russia last year, Björn HANSEN nearly missed out on competing this time around, only securing his invite with an impressive display at the ISAF Grade 1 Trofeo Challenge Roberto Trombini in Italy. The pressure was on HANSEN at the Trofeo, as he entered the event knowing he had to obtain a high finish to lift himself into the top ten of the ISAF World Match Race Rankings and therefore secure himself a place at the Worlds. He responded in emphatic fashion, reaching the final and then going on to post another impressive result at the ISAF Grade 1 Swedish Match Cup.
That performance ensured HANSEN a place in Calpe. Although he narrowly missed out on a semi final place last year, HANSEN has experience of the last four at the ISAF Worlds. He reached that stage in 2002 and although he lost out at the semi final stage, won the petit final to take third place. In 2005 he will be seeking to take the next step forward.
|© Guido Cantini/SEASEE.IT|
The third Frenchman of the event, Philippe PRESTI is one of the most versatile sailors on the match racing circuit. A Finn Gold Cup winner in 1993 and 1996 he has twice represented his country at the Olympic Games, in the Finn in 1996 and the Soling in 2000, was a helmsman for the French America's Cup syndicate le Défi Français during the 2003 Louis Vuitton Cup, and is currently alternating his match racing schedule with events in the Star.
The Frenchman's varied schedule does not appear to have diluted his success. At the ISAF Worlds in Russia last year he defeated Staffan LINDBERG (FIN) in the petit final to take third place, his best ever result in the event. He is yet to record a victory this year, although he scored a second place behind Peter GILMOUR (AUS) at the hotly contested ISAF Grade 1 ACI H1 Match Race Cup.
|© Kurt Arrigo/ROLEX|
A more familiar name in the 49er, Santiago LOPEZ-VAZQUEZ, takes the invite slot allocated to the host nation. He will race in Calpe as the lone Spaniard and is consequently sure of enthusiastic support. In Russia last year Eugeniy NEUGODNIKOV (RUS) was able to keep the home fans excited to eventually finish fourth and LOPEZ-VAZQUEZ will be aiming to replicate this type of performance.
For the rest of the fleet LOPEZ-VAZQUEZ presents the fear of the unknown. He has only a few match race appearances under his belt, making it difficult to assess any strengths or weaknesses. In the events he has appeared at this year the Spaniard has impressed, most recently taking the Spanish America's Cup syndicate Desafío Español 2007 team to fourth at the ISAF Grade 3 Dream Race. No mean feat when the field included two three time Match Racing World Champions, Russell COUTTS (NZL) and Chris DICKSON (NZL).
Racing in Calpe gets underway with the round robin tomorrow. With a field which covers experience, youth, defending and former champions, Worlds' debutants and a total of 18 event victories this year, 2005 looks set to be a fascinating year at the ISAF Match Racing World Championship.