Con Cup preview
Eugeny Neugodnikov and Andrew Arbuzov, currently sixth and 24th in the International Sailing Federation's world match race rankings, will be among 10 competitors in the Long Beach Yacht Club's 43rd Congressional Cup, presented by Acura, May 15-19, Tuesday through Saturday.
While the more familiar world-class talents duke it out in Valencia, Neugodnikov and Arbuzov are believed to be the first Russians to compete in a match racing event in the US. If Neugodnikov's performance matches his ambition, he'll be leading Russia's first America's Cup challenge the next time around.
Neugodnikov, 25, has been match racing only five years but claims success against two AC skippers on the world circuit---2-0 vs. James Spithill of Luna Rossa and 1-1 vs. 2000 Congressional Cup winner Dean Barker of Emirates New Zealand.
He has his own slick website with the name of his team ( www.lordofsail.com ) in Russian and English, plus a few sponsors for support.
So how did he become No. 6 and climbing?
"We won the Yava Trophy 2006, a Grade 1 [event], and two Grade 2 [events], Sails of White Nights [and] Sopot MR," he says.
His all-Russian crew is Ekimov Alexander, Kornev Nikolay, Besputin Konstantin, Pozidaev Mihail and Karelskiy Maksim.
He has only heard of a Catalina 37, the Congressional Cup workhorse for the last 15 years. "I heard that the boat is good---but slow in the pre-start maneuvers!" he said.
Veteran match racing umpire Henry Menin has said of Neugodnikov, "I had the opportunity to watch and to umpire Eugeny in New Zealand. It was a pleasure to watch the progress he has made. He and the crew represent Russia in a very fine way. He also is the only one of the competitors who flies his national flag on his backstay for every race, so obviously he is very proud to be representing Russia."
Brian Angel, 25, a second-time competitor from Redondo Beach, said, "I've sailed against Neugodnikov a few times. He's a pretty wound-up skipper . . . pretty aggressive on the water and seems to have a lot of close races. He wins plenty of them, needless to say."
Neugodnikov said on his website: "The Lord of the Sail has the aim to take part in the largest and most prestigious world, European and Russian sailing regattas. The basic purpose in 2006-2007 is to rise to 3 to 6 (he's already there), to win the Open World championship and to [join] the World Match Racing Tour. That's all to raise the prestige of Russia on the international sailing scene. The general purpose of the team: participation in the America's Cup, the greatest event in world match racing."
France's Mathieu Richard, No. 4 in the world, heads the Congressional Cup list. Others in order of rankings: Neugodnikov, No. 6; Damien Iehl, France, No. 10; Johnie Berntsson, Sweden, No. 13; Simon Minoprio, New Zealand, No. 17; Martin Angsell, Sweden, No. 22; Arbuzov, No. 24; Angel, No. 35; Przemek Tarnacki, Poland, No. 51; Scott Dickson, Long Beach, No. 101.
Dickson, an LBYC member, does not compete regularly on the circuit but this will be his 11th Congressional Cup.
The competitors, six to a crew, will sail 10 Catalina 37s, rotating boats each day. Each team will race every other team twice. The six that fail to reach the semifinals will sail a 10-mile fleet race on the final championship day. The total purse will be $41,000, including $10,000 to the winner.
Acura, the luxury division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., is the presenting sponsor of the Congressional Cup.