The countdown is on and the transition from Rio 2016 to Tokyo 2020 was marked by a gathering of Olympic Sailing hopefuls in Dublin this week.
Of those present, there was just one veteran in a group of fresh faces that must qualify Ireland in each of four key events before any selection for the actual team takes place.
The qualification process begins in Aarhus, Denmark in just over one month’s time when the combined World Sailing Championships for the eleven Olympic disciplines gets underway.
Over 1,500 competitors from 100 countries are expected to attend with around 40% of places in Tokyo to be allocated based on national performances at the championships.
Irish Sailing concentrates on four key events: Men’s singlehanded lightweight dinghy (Laser Standard); Women’s lightweight dinghy (Laser Radial); Men’s skiff event (49er) and Women’s skiff (49erFX).
In addition, there are two sailors aiming for qualification in the Men’s heavyweight single-handed dinghy, but are doing so independently of the official programme.
With the task at hand this year — to get Ireland qualified — attention will be firmly focused on the veteran Olympians who are best placed to deliver good results.
Rio veteran Finn Lynch from Carlow has been on form recently and exudes quiet confidence ahead of Aarhus but also has Bangor’s Liam Glynn to contend with despite just three years separating the pair.
Lynch (22) was the youngest competitor in the Laser event in Rio but now Glynn is the same age as he was then and a rising star in the single-handed class.
“It’s going to be a really hard competition and it will take a personal-best performance at the worlds to do it but I’ve done a lot of training there so I’m feeling confident going into the regatta.”
As with the men’s single-hander, the women’s class is reduced to two contenders following the decision by Rio Silver medallist Annalise Murphy to switch from her beloved Radial class that she sailed for over a decade to pair with Katie Tingle for the 49erFX skiff event.
Murphy is completing the Volvo Ocean Race this week before returning home for a week-long break and will then commence training in the new class from scratch.
The pair will not be ready to compete in Aarhus.
That leaves the way clear for Howth’s Aoife Hopkins and Lough Derg’s Aisling Keller to first qualify Ireland and then face a trials series for the single national place.
Hopkins has missed out on vital training time recently due to a lingering throat infection for almost three months, a factor that may close the gap between the pair to a level competition as the Dublin sailor has usually had a small edge over the Tipperary helm .
When it comes to the 49er, two-time Olympian Ryan Seaton from Carrickfergus has paired with Cork’s Seafra Guilfoyle following the retirement of Matt McGovern.
Watching this pair while also trying to reach the qualifying standard will be brothers Sean and Tadgh Donnelly from Dublin, Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove, also from the capital, and Baltimore’s Mark Hassett with Oisin O’Driscoll from Schull.
The two Finn class contenders are Fionn Lyden from Baltimore and Oisin Mcclelland from Ulster.
Following their return from Denmark, the squad is hoping that the new permanent training base in Dun Laoghaire will be ready for use where all their equipment, boats, sail storage, workshops and gym will be based.
The repurposed shipping containers will also be capable of transport to major event such as the Tokyo games meaning the national squad will be closer to a comparable support set-up as some of the major sailing nations.
All those present in Dublin this week welcomed the development of the base with most looking forward to making more use of their time at a single venue and being less reliant on local clubs where their constant training can sometimes be a drain on facilities.
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