Congressional Cup line-up

Rich Roberts eyes up the form for the next event in the Swedish Match Tour

Thursday March 28th 2002, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States

Peter Holmberg (above), winner of the last two events on the Swedish Match Tour, will try for his hat trick when he brings match racing's top rankings back to Long Beach, California to defend the Congressional Cup championship he has won three of the last four years.

The event is scheduled April 9-13 (Tuesday through Saturday) in the Long Beach outer harbor near Belmont Pier, which will have free tiered seating and narration for spectators. Racing will start each day at noon, weather conditions permitting.

The 40-year-old sailor from the U.S. Virgin Islands leapfrogged Sweden's Magnus (No Relation) Holmberg in the Swedish Match Tour rankings by winning the Steinlager/Line 7 Cup at Auckland, N.Z. last week, following his Bermuda Gold Cup victory in October. This week, updated calculations by the International Sailing Federation also moved him past his Swedish rival in the ISAF rankings for all of the world's match racers. Peter Holmberg now has a narrow lead over Magnus, 10,673 points to 10,613, but figures to stretch that in Magnus' absence.

The Auckland event was not actually completed after the wind died, but Holmberg outpointed the other finalist, Denmark's Jes Gram-Hansen, on a 'countback' system. That has never happened in 37 years of the Congressional Cup, which traditionally has been blessed by a brisk southwesterly sea breeze blowing through the San Pedro Channel. So Holmberg and Hansen---now ranked first and third by ISAF---should be able to settle the issue at Long Beach.

Earlier, Gram-Hansen had replaced Magnus Holmberg in the Congressional Cup lineup because of demands in the Swedish Victory Challenge's development program for the America's Cup.

It's clear that the broken collarbone Peter Holmberg suffered when he fell off his mountain bike a few weeks ago did not affect his sailing. He also is a prospective helmsman for Oracle Racing's America's Cup team, especially with Paul Cayard and Chris Dickson currently bumped off the boat, although Holmberg says he is "just a member of the afterguard" for now.

Magnus Holmberg placed only seventh at Auckland, behind four sailors who are competing at Long Beach: Peter Holmberg, Rod Davis, Gavin Brady and Ken Read.

Germany's 16th-ranked Morten Henriksen also dropped out because his illbruck team has discontinued its America's Cup preparations for financial reasons. He has been replaced by America's Ed Baird, a former No. 1 now ranked 18th. Neither Baird nor Gram-Hansen currently has an America's Cup affiliation, but seven of their rivals do.

The fleet, with their affiliations and new and previous ISAF rankings:

Peter Holmberg, Oracle Racing, 1 (2);
Jes Gram-Hansen, Denmark, 3 (5);
Luc Pillot, Le Defí Areva, 7 (7);
Gavin Brady, Prada, 8 (8);
Dean Barker, Team New Zealand, 18 (19);
Ed Baird, USA, 19 (18);
Rod Davis, Prada, 23 (39);
Andy Green, GBR Challenge, 31 (30);
Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner, 38 (46);
Scott Dickson, USA, unranked.

All except Dickson, a younger brother of Chris, competed in the Steinlager/Line 7 Cup. The New Zealand native, now a Long Beach resident, qualified by winning the Ficker Cup last fall. He finished second in the 1998 Congressional Cup when Holmberg won his first Crimson Blazer, the symbol of victory in the only Grade 1 match racing event in the U.S. The Congressional Cup joined the Swedish Match Tour this year.

The lineup includes the last six winners: Holmberg in 1998, '99 and 2001, Barker in 2000, Brady in '96 and '97, and Davis, the only four-time winner, in '81, '85, '89 and '93---the first two when he was a California resident before moving to New Zealand. Davis jumped from 39th to 23rd in the rankings by reaching the Steinlager/Line 7 semifinals, where he lost to Holmberg, 2-1.

The Congressional Cup's total purse is $25,000. The top eight finishers receive Swedish Match Tour Championship Prize points. The top eight point leaders at the conclusion of the Swedish Match Tour divide a $200,000 prize purse, with the Swedish Match Tour champion receiving $60,000.

Congressional Cup sponsors include F&M Bank, Trojan Battery, Jones Lumber, Port of Long Beach and Mondavi Winery.

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