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1997 Malaysia Challenge
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Kostecki — The Man of Malaysia

By Bob Fisher

LANGKAWI, Malaysia (Dec. 6, 1997) — John Kostecki, the nominated tactician of AmericaOne, stepped out of his usual role to skipper an entry in the Malaysian Challenge, a high purse match racing grand prix at the beginning of December. To say that he won it would be an understatement — he blitzed it — and what was more, Kostecki got better as the racing progressed. It was a totally dominant performance from the Soling silver medalist of the 1988 Olympics. (Click on the photo to view a larger image.)

It shouldn't be surprising that a sailor of Kostecki's caliber should turn in such a completely devastating display of match racing, but while sailing as tactician in similar events, he has eschewed skippering an entry for some considerable time. The last match race he sailed at the back end of the boat was in 1993 at the Bitter End Invitational and the one before that on his card was the 1992 Congressional Cup.

Which is why he shook the established match racers to the core, bearing in mind that he did not appear on the world rankings before this Grade 1 event, and the top three in the world, Peter Gilmour, Ed Baird and Bertrand Pacé, were present for the regatta, which had a $100,000 prize fund. Kostecki's share was $21,978.80 for winning, plus $6,000 for winning three of the four elimination series.

"We sailed well the entire regatta and the crew did a fantastic job!" Kostecki said. On his crew were Morgan Larson, Alan Smith and Don Cowie.

Even with the world champion Gilmour present, the event turned out to be a two-horse race — Kostecki versus Baird. The two of them battled out each of the four elimination series finals — the Malaysian Challenge didn't use the normal rounds-robin format but had knock-out series instead — and it came as no surprise when they were the eventual finalists.

Kostecki's choice of semi-finalist was delivered with a humorous dead-pan. "We'd like to see Ed Baird and Peter Gilmour race each other," he drawled, "which means we get Gavin Brady." It was the choice everyone had expected, but Brady, ranked number 14 in the world, had qualified from an earlier series and was no easy opponent. He was twice first to the weather mark in the best-of-five match, but could not hold off Kostecki downwind where boat speed and placement were at a premium. The scoreline of 3-0 slightly understated Brady's performance.

The final match against Baird promised much although each time they had met, Kostecki had improved. In their first elimination, Kostecki had wiped out on the final run, but the race was resailed after a protest that one end mark of the finishing line had been submerged at a critical time, which had cause Kostecki the unnecessary gybe resulting in his wipe-out. Kostecki won the resail. The next elimination final went to Baird and at the end of the first day the two were level.

The following day saw a change in format with all matches going to the first to win two. Kostecki won both races. The fourth of these elimination series final saw Baird win the first race narrowly and Kostecki level in the second race in a similar manner, while in the third he consistently pulled away.

Kostecki won the first of the best-of-five grand final, leading from shortly after the start. There was a whole night for Baird to dwell on this, and in the first race the next morning he won, but that was the last time. Kostecki notched up two victories and took the major prize by 3-1. And as if to rub in that the world rankings mean nothing, Brady beat Gilmour 2-1 for third place.

Kostecki said that the result was due to good boat speed and excellent crew work. "It was good team work," he said.

From Langkawi, Kostecki is headed to Fremantle, Western Australia, where he will join the Whitbread Round the World Race as co-skipper of the American boat, Chesie Racing, for Legs 3 and 4.

Leg 3, Fremantle to Sydney, begins Saturday, Dec. 13, and is expected to end by Dec. 22. The comparatively short Leg 4, a hop across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, begins Jan. 4 and is expected to be completed by Jan. 9. From there, Kostecki goes to Key West, Florida, for Key West Race Week, which begins Jan. 19.

Read the previous story.

For complete results, visit the Malaysia Challenge Web site.


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