The expectations of Ireland’s sailors have been raised by Annalise Murphy’s fourth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics but the Irish Sailing Association’s performance director has described medal hopes at Rio next month as an outside shot.
“We’re due a medal,” said James O’Callaghan when asked if Ireland had underachieved at the Games. The only medal secured by the sport here was in 1980, when David Wilkins and James Wilkinson claimed silver in the Flying Dutchman class.
“The stated ambition was always a medal and the reason for that is that that’s where we want the bar to be. Whatever else that drops out of that will be a higher standard as a result of setting that goal and we weren’t a million miles off in London. So it’s not like it’s an unachievable aim.
“We are definitely a medal potential sport. It was four years ago that the Olympic steering group that guides that strategy set that goal. There was a debate as to whether or not that should be the stated aim and it was unanimously decided that if that isn’t, then why are we in this business?”
Other goals set four years ago have been attained.
Murphy went on to claim a European title in 2013 in the Laser Radial and has spawned a new generation of girls eager to follow in her wake, while Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern claimed success at the 49er Princess Sofia Regatta last April.
It is Seaton and McGovern, not Murphy, who will travel to Brazil next month with the bulk of informed expectation on their shoulders. The pair are competing in their second Olympics together but theirs is still an “outside chance” according to O’Callaghan.
“In their class, the Kiwi team has dominated like we have seen no team dominating in the last five Olympics. And then the Australian gold medallists are back, and back in form as well, so there is a group of eight to nine boats fighting for the other medal.
“Ireland, and Ryan and Mat, are very much in that bunch. That’s why it will be very difficult to win a medal in a fleet of boats where 50% of the people could win a medal and there’s another 30 nations in their class that would like to be at the Olympics but didn’t qualify.”
Nobody in Team Ireland will be as familiar with their surroundings in South America next month as the sailing fraternity. O’Callaghan’s first visit to the area was in May of 2013 and all those competing have spent varyingly lengthy spells in and around the Marina da Gloria.
The environmental issues concerning Guanabara Bay, where the sailing regatta is to be held, have been well-thumbed and the fact is that the promises made by the organisers concerning clean-ups have only been partially fulfilled.
Perhaps more problematic will be the course itself.
“The fundamental thing is that it is the same for everybody,” said O’Callaghan.
“We have spent a lot of time there trying to get familiar with what is a very tricky venue with the tide and wind and the mountains surrounding it. The time of year as well.
“It is winter over there so we will get fronts coming in. So it is a difficult place to sail but difficult for everybody. The challenges it presents are very different to Weymouth [in 2012]. It’s like a links course versus a parkland. It’s that different.
“Most of the teams will have been there for over a hundred days by the time we hit the start line in Rio. We have done our best to try and minimise the challenges that are there. They are all pretty experienced sailors so hopefully the challenge won’t be too much for us to overcome.”
The rest of the sailing team will comprise of Carlow’s 20-year old Croatia-based Finn Lynch in the Laser Standard - who will become the youngest helmsman to ever represent Ireland at a Games - and Saskia Tidey and Andrea Brewster who figure in the 49erFX.
Murphy, who joined the rest of her Olympic colleagues in Dublin yesterday for the ISA’s ‘Try Sailing’ promotion, will be the first into the water, on Monday, August 8.
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