All hands on deck as build up to Tokyo begins

With three years to run before the Tokyo Olympics, patience is the watchword as the line-up of Irish sailors in formation start their arduous journey of training and competition against a backdrop of Annalise Murphy’s silver medal success in Rio.

On paper, at least for now, the 2016 line-up is being rebuilt though with a deeper well of emerging talent coming up from the junior ranks on a scale never before seen in Irish sailing.

First, the changes.

The retirement of Andrea Brewster from Olympic competition last Autumn left Saskia Tidey, the other half of the 49er FX duo that debuted in Brazil searching for options.

The Dun Laoghaire sailor was faced with starting afresh with a younger unproven helm or looking for alternatives. She settled on a switch to competing for Team GBR at the start of this year and has had podium success at various regattas alongside Charlotte Dobson.

The pair placed ninth overall in their 56-strong fleet at last week’s world championships at Porto in Portugal.

But no successor crew is apparent yet although Irish Sailing’s performance director is keen to point to the handful of potential crews currently competing in the Laser Radial single-handed circuit.

“We would hope to have (a campaign) up and running in this cycle with a view to qualification for the 2024 Olympics,” said James O’Callaghan. “For now, they’re concentrating on developing their racecraft and campaign management skills.”

The national strategy is to develop suitably skilled sailors who can switch from one discipline to another as circumstances demand.

“We’re more than happy with the Radial being a development class but ultimately they all can’t sail at the games with one place available so we’ll aim to migrate some across to the 49erFX.”

The Men’s skiff is a different scenario where for the 2012 games and most of the 2016 cycle there was only one significant campaign. After Rio, two-times veterans Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern opted to continue with separate campaigns with up and coming sailors and there are now six crews in development.

Seaton with Nikolaus Resch placed 30th overall at last week’s worlds while McGovern, now sailing as helm enjoyed two race wins on the second day before his crew Robbie Gilmour received a fractured wrist while cycling to the venue for the third day of racing and the pair ended 53rd out of 81 boats.

Of the younger campaigns, Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove placed 60th while brother Sean and Tagdh Donnelly were 61st. Both results were exactly where squad management would expect for the development stage while Cian Byrne and Patrick Crosbie in 73rd are also marking their first major championship appearance at senior level in the class.

Between all five crews, a strong chance of qualification for Ireland exists followed by a selection trials in the next two years.

Meanwhile, the single-handed classes revolve around the Men’s Laser standard rig and Women’s Laser Radial.

Annalise Murphy is understood to have shelved her campaign for the next 10 months as she will be competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. She had been expected to compete in the world championships last month but a knee injury, her first major physical setback of her career obliged her to skip the event and recover fully ahead of the 45,000-mile lap of the planet.

She has stated in intention to compete for Tokyo 2020 though O’Callaghan notes that the round the world race often alters life plans and while fully supportive of the 27-year old silver medallist, points to the emerging talent seeking to replace her in the squad.

Chief amongst the up and coming stars are Howth’s Aoife Hopkins and Lough Derg’s Aisling Keller. All three are friends and training partners and in Murphy’s absence, the two younger sailors have been delivering steadily improving performances this Summer including top 10 places at junior level.

Like the Men’s skiff event, the Laser Radial class also appears set for a major trials series ahead of the next games.

An indicator of form and a key performance regatta is looming next week for Carlow sailor Finn Lynch who debuted at Rio 2016 as the youngest competitor in the Men’s Laser class.

His world championships will set a benchmark for another raft of contenders in the build-up to Tokyo while in turn, he will also be aware of the pool of more than a dozen single-handed sailors in the pipeline chasing one place at the Olympics.


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