Facing an international field of match racers hailing from Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and the Caribbean, Rodion Luka from the Ukraine won the 6th edition of the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup with a 2-1 victory over Russian skipper Eugeny Nikiforov.
A silver medalist in the 49er Class at the 2004 Olympics, Luka was joined by fellow Ukraine Igor Matvienko, who won gold aboard a 470 in the 1996 Games. Dmitry Potosky rounded out Luka’s winning three-man crew, who earned the $5,000 first-place check for their efforts.
“I have a really good team,” said Luka. “We had a couple of lucky moments that really helped us. We didn’t expect to win. We just did our best. Once we had the boat-handling down and that isn’t a problem, you can begin to play chess, which is what match racing is.”
Nikiforov and his team took home the $3,000 purse for second place. In the petit final, Poland’s Przemyslaw Tarnacki beat Colin Rathbun from the British Virgin Islands by a 2-1 score to secure the $1,000 prize for third.
Russian skipper Nikiforov sailed an outstanding series, tearing through the round-robin tournament with a perfect score, including a victory over Luka in the 10th and final flight of racing. It was Luka’s first loss of the day and it set up an unexpected match in the best-of-three race finals. And after the first race, when Nikiforov overtook Luka on the second of three windward legs, and then held on for the victory to remain undefeated for the series, it appeared to be the Russian’s day.
But it turned out Luka still had some comeback magic of his own.
Race 2 was delayed after the pin-end buoy went adrift, but once it was reset, Luka took the start by six seconds and never looked back, leading Nikiforov around every mark of the three-lap course to register a wire-to-wire victory to knot the finals at 1-1. With solid breeze now providing ideal 10-12 knot wind conditions, the stage was set for a winner-take-all third and final race.
After such a dramatic day of yacht racing, it proved to be an anticlimactic finish. Luka and Nikiforov were in close quarters during the entire pre-start cat-and-mouse sequence, but with less than a minute before the start, the Russian blinked and Luka gained a slight advantage.
“They made a mistake and we got a half boat length ahead,” said Luka. “We were quite lucky. After that, it was quite easy. We got the first shift and took control.”
Luka had a solid lead at the start, extending a 19-second lead at the first weather mark to a dominating 39-second advantage at the second. From there, it was only a matter of covering Nikiforov to the finish line, which Luka did with poise and aplomb. When he crossed the line he shared high fives with his triumphant teammates.
“He (Nikiforov) dominated all the way through the round robin and got to the final race,” said Robbie Ferron, the founder of Budget Marine. “One silly mistake put him in second place. I really feel badly for him. All day he was so technically correct and disciplined.” He added, “But Luka is a worthy champion, and the Ukranian’s name will now be etched on the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup trophy.
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