Elton John would well be a fan of the Congressional Cup’s crimson blazer. Liberace would have enjoyed the gilt crest. Elvis may well have thought it a tad underdone. But in sailing, the crimson blazer is one of those brilliant anomalies or quirks of our sport that defines the true greats. I’m not entirely sure when you would wear it, apart from the winner’s podium, but it’s a terrific thing to have in your closet. Perhaps it’s an end-of-season dinner type thing but for sure it’s the blazer that the top four are focused on now at the 57th running of this truly spectacular event.
We’re down to the business end now at the picture-perfect Congressional Cup over at Long Beach and three past winners, Taylor Canfield, Ian Williams and Johnie Berntsson made the cut whilst America’s Chris Poole rounds out the semi-finalists with the bit between his teeth to try and secure a first blazer.
It’s a tough ask. Canfield and Williams are, on paper, the bookies favourites but Berntsson has been flying and is no slouch. But this is match-racing and strange things happen in the discipline. It’s anyone’s game if truth be told.
And that’s what makes events like the Congressional Cup so good. Yes the cream rises and yes it’s easy to big-up the be-blazered but Poole is in with more than a puncher’s chance and that’s interesting.
The psychology of top-four racing is fascinating, and I’ve been there at a lesser level, but will-power and clear-thinking plays as much a major role in the final standings as crew-work suddenly clicking to a degree unseen in the earlier rounds. People surprise you as the pressure comes on. Others disappoint. And this is going to be an intriguing battle right to the death.
As a Brit I’m pulling for Ian Williams – arguably one of these shores’ greatest exports in grand prix, big-time sailing. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves over here but for those of us that know, we know, you know.
Ian is a genius at the discipline and I’ve heard hushed tones being adopted at yacht club bars when his name comes up. He’s better than good. Four Congressional Cup blazers in his closet, I’m calling a fifth but I can hear the howls of derision from my American and Swedish friends. Canfield is rapier at this game and is 100% the man in form, with home advantage of sorts, whilst Johnie, the 2009 winner, is sailing like a dream this week and rolling the clock back. You’ve got to think that the finest of fine margins will decide this.
The dark horse though is Chris Poole of the Riptide Racing Team formed in 2012 with one singular goal: ‘Win the World Match Racing Tour.’ And they’ve been coming fast.
Based out of Oyster Bay New York, the team has been taking fabulous wins for a number of years (Chicago Grand Slam 2019, Seawanhaka Cup 2014/2017, NYYC Annual Regatta 2016) and you have to think that had Covid not hit and shut things down for a year or two, this young, gutsy team would be top of the pile and out-and-out favourites. But today they’re the dark horses. The only ones chasing their first crimson blazer and you know how we all love an underdog. I wish them well.
Long Beach, home of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Sailing Events is looking stunning as ever. The Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier is packed with knowledgable sailing fans being entertained by some superb commentary – the American accent is just so pitch-perfect for sailing commentary – and it’s a wonderful spectacle and advert for our sport. The competitors are some of the finest ambassadors for sailing at the highest level and the Congressional Cup is set for a thrilling finale.
Congratulations to the World Match Racing Tour. Just brilliant. Whoever pulls on that crimson blazer this weekend will have thoroughly deserved it. And I wholeheartedly agree with the Tour’s hashtag: #WHERECHAMPIONSAREMADE