Fully two years before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Regatta, the qualification stakes open in Aarhus, Denmark today with the first round of racing, as more than 1,200 entries take to the water over the coming 10 days.
Officially, Irish Sailing has 12 athletes in action here, but today sees two private entries in competition, as their event is not one of the four prioritised for national support.
Baltimore Sailing Club’s Fionn Lyden goes head to head with Oisin McClelland of Donaghadee Sailing Club, as the pair hope either of them qualify Ireland for the single place in Japan.
It’s a tough task facing them.
Across the 10 Olympic disciplines deciding their world championship titles for 2018, 40% of the places for Tokyo will be decided based on the country finishing-order.
Massing the entire Olympic family only occurs twice in every quadrennial cycle – the Games themselves and two years beforehand at this combined-championships.
If either Lyden or Mcclelland qualify Ireland in Aarhus, official recognition will follow and a trials series follows.
However, if both miss the 40% quota for this year, the private campaigning is their only route forward, as the next allocation of places takes place at the 2019 world championships.
For this event, a total of 90 Finn sailors have entered, representing 33 countries, all aiming to be one of the 19 countries to compete in the Olympics in two years’ time.
This boils down to either Irish sailor placing top seven by nation this year, a huge ask given the seniority of the existing talent in the class.
However, another tranche of places becomes available in 2019, so even a strong result in Aarhus that falls short of this year’s quota would still be welcome.
However, the longer-term prospects for the Finn dinghy itself — or to give it its formal name, the men’s heavyweight single-handed dinghy — will be clearer this autumn, when the future Olympic equipment line-up is decided.
Meanwhile, the other official Irish squad members roll-out their events over the coming days.
Both the men and womens’ Laser single-handed events go into competition from today.
Ireland again has two contenders in each event, with the men chasing a top-nine result by nation (out of 165 competitors) and the women seeking top 18 (out of 120 competitors) to secure places in Tokyo.
Rio 2016 veteran Finn Lynch from the National YC has moved from being the youngest competitor in his event in Brazil to now having to watch his back, as Liam Glynn from Ballyholme YC is a rising star, fresh from winning bronze at the U21 Worlds in Poland last month.
The Irish women are more evenly balanced, as Howth YC’s Aoife Hopkins and Lough Derg’s Aisling Keller have both returned steadily improving results since last season, but a prolonged recovery from an injury in the spring for Hopkins may yet see a gap open between the pair.
Saturday sees the 49er skiff event begin with just the Irish men competing. Officially, the womens’ 49erFX is the fourth discipline supported, but Annalise Murphy, who has switched from the Laser Radial to join Katie Tingle of the Royal Cork YC, is currently the only prospective campaign; this new pairing has only just started learning to sail this class.
That leave four crews campaigning in the 49er mens event, comprising London and Rio veteran Ryan Seaton from Ballyholme YC, who is paired with Séafra Guilfoyle of the Royal Cork YC; the National YC’s Sean and Tadgh Donnelly; Robert Dickson of Howth YC with Sean Waddilove of Skerries SC; and the West Cork team of Mark Hassett of Baltimore SC with Oisin O’Driscoll of Schull Harbour SC.