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10 April 2005, 08:28 am
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Congressional Cup 2005
Long Beach, Ca. USA

Tomorrow sees the first day of racing in the ISAF Grade 1 Congressional Cup Match Race Event. An all star lineup including Kiwis Russell COUTTS and Chris DICKSON are at Long Beach Yacht Club, California, USA to decide the winner of the 2005 Cup.
The skippers and their crews were arriving in California yesterday with practice today and the first day of racing on Tuesday. After five day's of racing the competition the winner will be decided on Saturday 16 April. COUTTS has not sailed in the Congressional Cup since 1992, the same year he won the ISAF World Match Racing Championship. Currently he is ranked number nine in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings after winning three of four events on the Swedish Match Tour. He has been sailing with a Danish crew since his disassociation with Alinghi, the Swiss team that he led to an America's Cup victory in 2003 following his two triumphant campaigns with New Zealand. He will be representing Denmark's Aarhus Sejlklub at Long Beach.

Ed BAIRD (USA), the 2004 Congressional Cup winner and current ISAF World Match Race Rankings' number one, and Gavin BRADY (NZL), a two-time winner plus a semi-finalist in the last three years, will not be competing because of their commitments to the America's Cup campaigns of Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing, respectively. DICKSON, the latter team's CEO, will represent Larry ELLISON's San Francisco-based team instead.

DICKSON, 42, is returning as a skipper long after his back-to-back Congressional Cup wins in 1990-1991. He is ranked at 119, but has competed in only three events during the current ranking period. A good performance in Long Beach is sure to boost him back up into the top 100 and towards the top 10. He and five crew members from the America's Cup team will represent the Golden Gate YC.

Despite the absence of BAIRD and DICKSON's lack of racing, there will be plenty of top ten sailors at Long Beach. France's Mathieu RICHARD recently finished runner up to BAIRD at the ISAF Grade 2 Marseille International Match Race and another good result here could mean he moves into the top three of the rankings. Fellow Frenchman, Philippe PRESTI, Finland's Staffan LINDBERG and Lars NORDBJERG (DEN) are the other three sailors ranked in the top ten of the ISAF World Match Race Rankings.

Making up a trio of Kiwi sailors is Dean BARKER, sailing for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. He is 91 in the rankings, having only competed in four ISAF Match Race Graded Events during the ranking period. However, he won the Congressional Cup on his first try in 2000, a few weeks after COUTTS stepped aside to let his protégé drive in the America's Cup-clinching race against Prada before thousands of hometown fans in Auckland.

Three years later COUTTS and BARKER met as opponents when Alinghi ran off a 5-0 victory over a Team New Zealand team beset by a series of boat breakdowns. BARKER has remained as helmsman for the restructured Emirates Team New Zealand, now rated as one of the stronger challengers for 2007 at Valencia.

Britain's solos representative is Chris LAW, a former British America's Cup skipper, and a winner of the Congressional Cup in 1994, who at one stage was ranked number two in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings.

LAW, who has won of twelve ISAF Grade 1 Match Racing Events, helmed British challenges in the 1987 and 1995 America's Cup's and is an expert America's Cup commentator, is currently in South Africa coaching and match race training with Team Shosholoza.

The final two competitors are the American's Chris LARSON and the Long Beach Yacht Club representative, Scott DICKSON.

sachallenge.com (As Amended By ISAF). Image, COUTTS at the helm of Team New Zealand:© Marilynn Young/AFP/Getty Images
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