Irish Sailors mix youth and experience

Every four years, the eyes of the world are fixed on the five-ring Olympic circus. In my sport of sailing, the Games can be the culmination of four, eight or even 12 long years of hard competing.

In those two-and-a-half weeks during the Games, sailing and other so-called minority sports become the focus of attention.

I have people who’ve never had an interest before asking me about wind conditions and sailing venues and equipment. It’s great for sailing to get more people interested.

The Irish sailing team consists of four boats, with a good mix of youth and experience. Annalise Murphy, veteran of London 2012, sails the single-handed laser radial dinghy.

Three is the male double handed 49er dinghy, sailed by Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, who also competed in London 2012.

Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey make their Olympic debuts, sailing the double-handed 49er FX dinghy and finally there os the single-handed laser dinghy sailed by Finn Lynch, who will become the youngest sailor to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games.

At every Olympic Games, problem are highlighted. I competed in Beijing 2008 and the chief issues were bad pollution levels and air quality along with large amounts of green floating seaweed on the race course in Qingdao.

At my second Games in London 2012, the company tasked with managing security underestimated the scale of the task, with 1200 extra army troops called in to help.

In Rio, a lot has been made of the water quality. But there have been hundreds of regattas at this venue in the past and there will be plenty more after the Olympics have gone.

None of the sailors will be thinking of the water quality or pollution when they take to the starting line. They will focus on what they can control.

First up today for team Ireland is Annalise Murphy. An agonising fourth in London, she will be keen to go a few spots better this time round.

But the advantage she had over her main competitors in 2012 was the racecourse in Weymouth, which was just like racing in Ireland, with similar wind conditions and sea state.

In Rio, that advantage over her competitors is not as obvious. Guanabara Bay, where the sailing will take place, has local currents that change with the weather and a difficult wind dictated by the high mountains surrounding the bay.

There will be tough racing ahead for the 26-year-old, but she has worked extremely hard to familiarise herself with the venue and the challenges that lie ahead. You will not meet a more determined and hard-working lady.

Finn Lynch also gets his Games under way. Finn has come through the youth system managed by the Irish Sailing Association. He shot to prominence as a junior taking silver at the Youth World Championships in 2012.

Still just 20, don’t be surprised if he enjoys good race results as he is well capable of mixing it with the best in the world. This will be a big learning experience for him and will be a good stepping stone to 2020 and beyond.

Both Annalise and Finn and all their competitors will have brand new boats supplied to them at the Olympics, so the equipment is the same for everybody in these categories.

Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern begin racing next Friday, along with Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey. In these categories, the competitors bring their own boats, though they must pass strict measurement checks before the regatta.

In these classes, you become a bit of an engineer as well as a sailor, always searching for that little edge over your competition in boat design, sail design and layout of the systems that drive the boat forward.

In 2012, my crew and I had part of our boat constructed and milled in a factory that makes parts for US Military planes to try and give us that extra speed.

Ryan and Matt have been knocking on the door at major regattas for a while. Their class has been dominated by the New Zealand team in the lead-up to these Olympics, but Matt and Ryan are well capable of getting in the mix.

Andrea Brewster’s and Saskia Tidey’s class is making its Olympic debut. These boats have only been sailed since 2009, which means medal chances are wide open. Andrea has declared for Ireland having raced for Britain.

She was third at the laser radial World Championships in 2008 but was overlooked for selection for Beijing.

The learning curve for the pair has been steep but if they can achieve consistency in their results, they can bring a solid result home.


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