Oct. 21, 2003 – According to a top news headline posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Italian sailing publication FareVela, Virgin Islands professional sailor Peter Holmberg has signed on with the 2003 America's Cup Champion Team Alinghi.
The brief item, datelined Monday out of Geneva, Switzerland, reads: Peter Holmberg, già con Oracle nella passata edizione della Coppa, ha firmato con il detentore del Trofeo Alinghi. Holmberg, originario delle Us Virgin Island, ha vinto in carriera un argento olimpico nei Finn ed è stato numero uno mondiale di match race. Un asso in più per la corrazzata di Ernesto Bertarelli.
Roughly translated this says that Holmberg, "sailing with Oracle in the last outing of the [America's] Cup, has signed with champion Team Alinghi. Holmberg, originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands, won an Olympic silver medal in the Finn and is ranked No. 1 in the world in match racing. An ace for Ernesto Bertarelli," Alinghi's owner.
In the big-money sailing game called the America's Cup (top teams reportedly spent well over $50 million to assemble personnel, boats and equipment), secrecy is a standard tactic to keep opponents off guard. However, the next America's Cup is not scheduled to be held until 2007; so, it seems unlikely that keeping team members secret now would last for long.
In the last America's Cup season, which ended with Team Alinghi taking the cup home to land-locked Switzerland, Holmberg sailed for Oracle BMW Racing, which lost to Alinghi in the finals to decide which team would challenge the defending Team New Zealand for the cup
Most of the final races between Alinghi and Team NZ were not as closely contested as those between Oracle and Alinghi had been. Team Alinghi has been in a position to observe the best America's Cup racers under the stresses of actual competition, and they would have no reason to sign Holmberg if he is not considered a top talent.
As competition for the right to challenge New Zealand for the cup intensified, top match racer Chris Dickson, sailing master of Oracle Racing's owner, Larry Ellison, replaced John Cutler as Oracle's director of sailing operations. As Dickson's profile on the professional match racing Web site states, "Dickson is one of the most enigmatic characters in international sailing. His emotional highs and lows are as legendary as his successes."
People skills are not among Dickson's greatest strengths. When it was announced that Dickson would take over the Oracle Cup program, 16-year veteran sail trimmer Stu Argo quit on the spot, according to ESPN's online coverage of the 2003 America's Cup. With the final showdown between Oracle and Alinghi progressing poorly for Oracle, The New York Times reported that Dickson's personal public relations person was telling all who would listen what was wrong with Holmberg and right about Dickson.
Unbowed in defeat, Oracle's Ellison announced he would challenge Alinghi for the next running of the Cup — and retained Dickson to run his team. Oracle has made no announcement as to a position for Holmberg with the team and has hired Gavin Brady, former tactician for Dickson, as their helmsman.
Holmberg sailing for Alinghi could set up a showdown between his new and old teams for the ultimate prize in sailing if Oracle survives the elimination process to challenge Alinghi for the Cup in 2007. The native St. Thomian has been in the position before — sailing for Oracle this year against his former team, Stars and Stripes, which was eliminated in the early rounds.
Denise Balzac, Holmberg's fiancée, would not confirm or deny the FareVela report. Holmberg, currently taking part in the Bermuda Gold Cup match racing event, had not replied to an e-mailed request for confirmation as of late Tuesday night.
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