Mathieu Richard defeats double ISAF Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams in a final dominated by unpredictable wind
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team won the ‘King of the Mountain’ title yesterday (Sunday 5 September) in spectacular style, taking a huge step towards becoming the 2010 ISAF Match Racing World Champion.
Having toyed with the teams all week at the St. Moritz Match Race, it was on the final day that the Maloja wind kicked in, bringing with it a supreme display of match racing for which the ISAF World Match Racing Tour is renowned. Richard, despite not always being on top of his game throughout the week, knuckled down when it mattered most, grinding out a series of hard-fought victories against his nearest rivals today.
When the two British skippers, triple Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN and double ISAF Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar won their first semi-final matches, the prospects looked good for an all-British final. However, Richard had no intention of playing second fiddle and led Ainslie all the way round the course in their next race to level the score.
It was standing room only in the packed grandstands and with everything hanging on the final race of both semi-final matches, the crowds of spectators were in for a treat. A dogfight before each of the starts characterized the races. With a penalty to his name in his deciding semi-final battle against Ainslie, it appeared Richard’s only option as they approached the final mark was a brutal one – to pin a penalty on Ainslie. Fortunately for Richard, his Blu26 found a gust, giving him enough time to complete his penalty turn and dispense with the Brit.
Meanwhile, in the Williams vs Minoprio bout Williams took the first match, but Minoprio responded in the second with a move at the windward mark, where Williams collected two penalties in rapid succession, allowing Minoprio to take a decisive victory. Williams though regained his composure for the final race of his dual with the New Zealander, with just enough control over Minoprio to maintain a slim lead to the finish and a place in the final.
The scene was set for a fitting British-French finale, with the title going to the first team to win two races. This was sailing’s version of ‘Le Crunch’. At times, both played underdog, exchanging glances and penalties. It was one all after two races and in the deciding race, it seemed only right that the wind, so unpredictable and challenging all week, should have the final say. Richard, playing a string of gusts and shifts to perfection, pulling five lengths clear, a lead he maintained to take the ‘King of the Mountain’ crown and CHF36,000 in prize money.
Richard, reflected: “I wasn’t happy after losing the first race against Ian in the finals. I was too excited, made mistakes and didn’t have a positive feeling. So, we picked ourselves up, changed our mood and took the match to them. We go to Denmark with a healthy lead however we know there is still all to play for. For now though, we’re overjoyed.”
As the Tour heads to the island of Bornholm, Denmark, next week, it is possible that the next few weeks will determine not just the outcome of this year’s World Match Racing Tour but also shape the future of match racing with the America’s Cup announcements that have been a hot topic all week in St. Moritz. Whatever the outcome, Richard and his rivals will remain focused on their endeavours to take the World Match Racing Tour title.
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