LONG BEACH, Calif.—Everybody knew the Russians were coming to the Long Beach Yacht Club’s 43rd Congressional Cup, presented by Acura, but not a French revolution.
“La journee de Francais!” said Mathieu Richard.
With four wins and one loss, Thursday was a very good day for him, the No. 2-ranked match racer in the world, and even better for Damien Iehl, whose 5-0 rush punched him from out of the backwash into contention for the fourth slot in Saturday’s semifinals. That will be determined Friday in the last three round-robin matches that loom as an up-tempo scramble.
Russia’s “Lord of the Sail” team led by Eugeniy Neugodnikov went 4-1 to jump into fourth place and sit on the bubble at 9-6, one point ahead of Iehl and Scott Dickson of Long Beach at 8-7.
Nobody is in the semis for sure—not even Richard (12-3), the third overall leader in the first thee days, or New Zealand’s Simon Minoprio (11.75.-2), whose quarter-point penalty from earlier in the week probably won’t matter anymore, and certainly not Sweden’s Johnie Berntsson, who slipped from first to third when his nine-race win streak turned sour into three consecutive losses before he righted himself with a photo-finish win over Richard in their last race.
On the other hand, Richard and Minoprio are home free with only one more win, and Berntsson would join then with two, regardless of tiebreakers and other results.
The only certainty, with no past champions in the field, is that the ultimate winner will be wearing the traditional Crimson Blazer for the first time. Sailors currently competing for the America’s Cup at Valencia have won 10 of the last 11 and 13 of the last 17 Congressional Cups: BMW Oracle’s Chris Dickson (1990-91) and Gavin Brady (1996-97, 2006), Emirates Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker (2000, 2005) and Terry Hutchinson (1992), and Alinghi’s Peter Holmberg (1998-99, 2001-02) and Ed Baird (2004).
This younger generation, with similar ambitions, has Simon Minoprio, 24; Eugeniy Neugodnikov, 25; Brian Angel, 26; Przemek Tarnacki, 29; Mathieu Richard, 30; Damien Iehl, 31; Martin Angsell, 33; Johnie Berntsson, 35; Scott Dickson, 36, and Andrew Arbuzov, 41.
Conditions Thursday mirrored the first two days, starting under a gray and gloomy marine layer with 5 knots of wind and improving to sunny and 12 knots by day’s end.
Principal race officer Randy Smith’s committee ran five rounds for the third day in a row, allowing them the luxury of starting an hour later Friday so everyone can sleep in. Racing will start at 12:30 p.m., conditions permitting.
Iehl said of his stunning effort, “We were much more happy with our boat speed and maneuvers. We focused really hard on that.”
Their problem wasn’t getting off the line. “[Wednesday] we won three starts and lost the races,” Iehl said. “We were very slow.”
Berntsson, who lost to Brian Angel, last-place Martin Angsell of Sweden and Neugodnikov, said, “We knew the other teams were improving.”
Iehl said, “Friday we’ll sail them one by one and see what happens.”
The total purse will be $41,000, including $10,000 to the winner.
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