By David Branigan
It doesn’t happen often and when it does, a race win at an Olympic class world championship is more than a minor cause for celebration.
As a performance indicator it is simple confirmation that if it can be done once, it can happen again.
When 19-year-old Aoife Hopkins from Howth qualified for the Gold fleet cut in the Laser Radial at the Hempel Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, earlier this week, that was a big tick beside her target for the event.
It also set the scene for her to gain cutting-edge experience in a 56-boat division packed with more senior talent that counted Olympic medallists and multiple champions.
A 44th place on Tuesday appeared to confirm just how tough a task competition in the Gold fleet would be.
But when she hit the starting-line of yesterday’s single race in the class and nailed the timing to perfection, she was quickly listed as the race leader holding a nice position in clear wind on the right hand side of the course.
It was a judgment call that could easily have gone the other way had she elected to go left. In a measure of just how tricky the conditions were, half of the top-placed sailors in the overall class standings had their worst race of the event.
But in another measure of her performance, whereas a less experienced sailor might well have held the lead after a good start but slipped up some along the rest of the 50-minute race, Hopkins made consistently good decisions and led the fleet at every mark.
By the finish, she extended a lead of less than 20 seconds over Italy’s Silvia Zennaro to well over one minute as she cruised across the line with an emphatic first place.
It was a moment to savour — briefly as a huge thunderstorm hit the area.
Although yesterday was the last scheduled day for the Gold fleet series, today’s reserve day will be called up for two more races.
Her overall standing improved slightly thanks to the first place but a shot at the world title or even a place in the medal race final for the top 20 boats was never a realistic prospect at this stage of her developing career.
Instead, her task at the next opportunity will be to qualify Ireland for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This championship will see 40% of all event places awarded to nations based on performances here but her opportunity will come later.
She also has a real contender in Lough Derg’s Aisling Keller who has been a close competitor over the past year but who was unable to match Hopkins at this event and is contesting the Silver fleet for the remaining 56 sailors at the championship.
Meanwhile, Rio 2016 veteran Finn Lynch was unable to improve his standing in spite of also winning one of his Gold fleet races on Tuesday in the Laser Men’s event.
He was disqualified from his second race that day for a ‘Black Flag’ starting-line infringement and attempts to prove conclusively that he had not infringed were unsuccessful.
His single result from yesterday at the back of the fleet means that even another race win in today’s final race of his Gold fleet would probably be insufficient for him to make the nation qualifying standard for Tokyo.
Racing concludes for all the Irish sailors today as the 49er skiff sailors are the last remaining events to sail while medal race series begins for the ten Olympic classes from this afternoon.