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Coutts Wins Series Grand Prize

SÈTE, France (June 22, 1996)—Russell Coutts of New Zealand won today what is touted as the largest cash prize ever awarded in sailing competition, the Brut Sailing Series grand prize of US$250,000.

To win the mountain of cash, Coutts first had to win the Brut Cup of France, which he accomplished by defeating France's Marc Bouët, 3-1, in the final match. That netted him the $7,500 first-place prize money.

The victory was the Kiwi's third straight in the Brut Series, qualifying him for the grand prize. He earlier won the Brut Royal Lymington Cup in England on May 18, and the Brut Cup of San Francisco on June 2.

"I had 250,000 good reasons to win this event," said Coutts, who is currently living in San Francisco. "We had a slow start against Peter Gilmour in the semi-finals, but we regrouped and my crew pulled me through."

Sailing in a stiff breeze, Australia's Gilmour took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five semi-final round. But as the breeze dropped, Coutts and company rebounded to take three straight and advance to the final against Bouët.

Coutts, the winning skipper in the America's Cup last year, dispatched former world champion Bertrand Pacé of France, 3-0, in the quarter-final round. Bouët downed Denmark's Jesper Bank, 3-1, in the semi-finals to advance to the finals.

In the petite final to decide third and fourth places, Bank defeated Gilmour. The competitors sailed 25-foot Beneteau sloops.

The competition was stiff, with seven of the 16 skippers ranked in the top 10 of the Omega World Match Race Rankings. Coutts' victory reshuffled the order of the rankings, however, returning him to the top spot. That dropped Baird No. 2 and Gilmour to No. 3. Coutts was ranked No. 1 in the world until last October, when Gilmour bumped him off, only to be deposed in November by Baird.

America's Cup-bound skippers Paul Cayard and Peter Holmberg were knocked out of the competition on Thursday, as was America's Cup veteran Thierry Peponnet of France. They each scored just three wins in the seven qualifying races. Great Britain's Chris Law, a Brut Series regular and America's Cup veteran was unable to get past the quarter-finals.

The final two regattas of the Brut Sailing Series are the Brut Cup of New York in August and the Brut Gold Cup of Bermuda in October.

In the U.S., the Brut Cup of France is scheduled to be shown on the ESPN cable network on Sunday, June 23. Check your local listing for the time.

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