A very special Golden Jubilee coming up in May provides links to an Irish Olympic Sailing Silver Medal, the Fireball World Championship, and the America’s Cup. W M Nixon finds the widest connections go even further than that to include a pioneering world voyage.
It was in May 1967 that the irrepressible Carmel Winkelmann oversaw the first results of a junior sailing initiative at the National Yacht Cub, her home club in Dun Laoghaire. It became a movement which went on which to have nationwide and worldwide ramifications, so much so that within Ireland we’re looking at an unbroken line in Irish sailing which is continued through the club which currently holds the title of ISA Training Centre of the Year, which for 2017 is Foynes Yacht Club on the Shannon Estuary.
That a successful club at the heart of the Atlantic seaboard can trace an almost magic thread back to something which happened at a club on Dublin Bay a long time ago is quite a story in itself. Particularly when the Atlantic seaboard club itself is imbued, as Foynes is, with the spirit of legendary circumnavigator Conor O’Brien. However, when the story is shaping up to continue with the Golden Jubilee as the latest chapter, it gives us an opportunity both to celebrate, and take stock of what it has all meant.
But business first. Anyone who has ever taken part in the Junior Training Programme at the National Yacht Club is hereby alerted – if you don’t know already – that on the evening and night of Saturday May 20th, there will be a very special celebration at the clubhouse. The organisers Carmel Winkelmann and Ann Kirwan are particularly keen to trace those who have moved away, but would find much nostalgic pleasure with the meeting of old friends by returning on this day of days. So if that applies to you, or you know anyone to whom it does, please make contact with the key club administrator whom everyone refers to as “Oonagh at the National”, the proper line of contact being [email protected], tel 01-280 5725.
To grasp the significance of what is being celebrated, please try to visualize the National Yacht Club as it was fifty years ago. The building itself, standing directly in the harbour, has the air of a fishing lodge in the West of Ireland on its seaward side, and a hint of neo-classicism when seen from the town. But in the early 1960s it was very limited in its shoreside facilites for sailing dinghies. There was a boathouse entered through fine granite arches under the clubhouse itself, but to use it, masts needed to be lowered. It was served by a very steep and easily-crowded slip, while there was access to another slip on the east side of the cub which served a small area where dinghies could be stored. But while there was space for the established classes of Fireflies and some IDRA 14s, some room was also needed for the small tenders for larger yachts moored in the harbour, while the racing keelboats were served by club launches which might be substantial dinghies driven by vintage Seagull outboards.
The concept of a proper dinghy park was still only in its infancy, relatively speaking, for craft such as Dun Laoghaire’s Firefly and IDRA fleets which had been active since the late 1940s. Thus if anyone had a centreboard boat which could reasonably be expected to lie to moorings, she was obliged to do so, and the fleet of small craft lying off the club included the 17ft Mermaids and the 14ft Water Wags.
To compound the space problems afloat and ashore, during the 1960s the area in the southeast part of Dun Laoghaire Harbour off the National Yacht Club was the focal point for the cross-channel ferry berths. The railway-system serving Mailboat with its emphasis on foot passengers continued to use the Carlisle Pier to the west of the club, but the East Pier was known for a period as the Car Ferry Pier as a busy new roll-on roll-off terminal, which admittedly always had a temporary look about it, had been constructed there to accommodate the new trend in cross-channel travel.
Thus not only was anyone sailing a dinghy from shore at the National YC dong so out of decidedly limited facilities, but they immediately sailed into an area cluttered with a collection of moored boats of all shapes and sizes, and that in turn was set in an area which might have ferry ships berthed close by, or manoeuvring on either side.
The comparisons with today’s National Yacht Club with its spacious platform facing out over a much clearer harbour area, and beside it an installation of convenient berthing pontoons, could not be greater. But back in the 1960s, an equally important change was happening – there was a complete re-appraisal of what the most junior sailors really needed in boats and instruction to get the best from the sport.
For sure there were the Fireflies, but in terms of lower age limit they were really aimed at adolescents on the cusp of rapidly growing youth. The other available classes were even more adult-oriented. In fact, the underlying problem was that children going sailing were treated as miniature adults who would somehow pick up the skills of the game through a sort of osmosis, whereas for a crucial period of their lives they would have most benefitted from being treated as a different species, with different boats to meet their needs.
Yet even here, adult views dominated. The grown-ups thought that young people’s boats should at least look like small yachts. Thus a dinghy which was promoted for children by several clubs was the 11ft Yachting World Cartop Heron, which had originally been conceived as a DIY-build which could fit on the roof-rack of the average family car, and was designed with a gunter rig such that all its spars could be stowed within the boat.
It had some good ideas, and with a pretty sheer it fulfilled the adult expectation of what a miniature yacht should look like. But it was surprisingly heavy for its avowed rooftop requirement – you’d have needed a weight-trained family to get it on the car roof. And anyway, it was too large for really small kids who genuinely had the sailing bug.
So a revolutionary approach was needed, and it came thanks to one of the National YC’s international sailing stars, Johnny Hooper. He had achieved Ireland’s first Olympic Race win with Peter Gray in the Flying Dutchman in the 1960 Rome Olympics when the sailing was at Naples. But as an FD campaign towards the 1984 Olympics was prohibitively expensive with the venue in Japan, he returned to his first love of International 505 Racing, and it was at a big 505 championship in Scandinavia in 1965 or thereabouts that he first became aware of the game-changing possibilities of the Optimist for junior sailing.
Scandinavia being rightly renowned for the elegance of its yacht, it speaks volume for the versatility of the Florida-originating Optimist, the “simple little boxboat that sails surprisingly well”, that Scandinavia should lead the movement towards a world body for a boat which, whatever the traditionalists might think, the kids were clearly loving. Founded 1965, the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) had Viggo Jacobsen of Denmark as its first President with his wife Edith as Secretary, and in that same year Johnny Hooper set about introducing the idea of the Optimist to Ireland.
Now if some ordinary Joe had happened to by impressed by an Optimist at some foreign location, and had even brought one home to persuade his fellow sailors that they were looking at the future, the idea probably would have fallen very flat indeed.
But that’s not the Hooper way. Instead, from his highly respected position he quietly targeted fellow National Yacht Club members who were themselves active sailors, but also had children who would benefit from the Optimist experience, and in time a group emerged which was to include initially Johnny Hooper with his wife Bernie giving the longterm involvement, Peter Gray, Paddy & Barbara Kirwan , Don Douglas, Franz & Carmel Winkelmann, Michael McGrath, Arthur Lavery and several others, many of whom had reasonable DIY skills and could see the possibility of building an Optimist in the basement of their Dun Laoghaire homes without too much disruption of the household. By the Autumn of 1966, the project was under way.
While Johnny Hooper had introduced the idea, he stood back from its continuing implementation, for the Hooper modus operandi was to give an idea enough strength to soon have wings of its own. That certainly happened in the National Yacht Club, for very quickly a manageably small committee was in being, and the formidable Carmel Winkelmann became its secretary. The NYC Junior Programme became her baby, and it always has since been seen as such, even though the number of people involved in administering the programme over the fifty years, as the NYC facilities have expanded and developed to meet the needs of a modern membership, will now run into the hundreds.
In fact, properly organized junior sailing with boats specifically designed for young people’s needs is now so central to Irish sailing that it takes a huge leap of the imagination to visualize the scene as the first small group of National Yacht Club Optimist Dinghies – most of them locally-built either by amateurs or professonals – began to emerge in May 1967 with numbers increasing as each weekend passed. New they may have been, but they reflected their era, with a public Blessing of the Boats outside the Brindley household as a new batch of boats appeared.
But though most young sailors in theory had his or her own boat, before anything approaching full fleet numbers was approached they’d a habit of letting anyone sail some boat or other in the early stages, so much so that although Ann Kirwan was part of it from a very early stage, she admits that even she can’t claim total accuracy when identifying the helm of a known boat.
This habit of inter-changing sailors became even more marked in that first year when the early class discovered that the most useful base for their day-time sailing was the little-used Irish Lights service barge moored in the western part of the harbour. Over there, NYC Optimist sailors found much clearer sailing water, and they were well away from the comings and goings of the two cross-channel ferries off their home club, not to mention excessive parental control. In effect, the barge became their day-time base, and they ate their packed lunches aboard it while deciding who would take which boat for the first stage of the afternoon’s sailing. Fifty years down the line, we might well wonder if the Commissioners of Irish Lights are aware of the key role their humble barge played in launching Ireland’s Junior Training Programme.....
Once launched in its viable form in 1967, there was no stopping it, and the names which have emerged just from the National’s junior programme alone (for virtually all clubs now have one) take us over an extraordinary range, and up to the heights of Olympic participation, the winning of major world dinghy championships and associations with the America’s Cup.
It’s Johnny Smullen who provides the latter. The California-based Johnny Smullen in San Diego is now of world stature in anything to do with yacht and boat-building or indeed in marine construction generally, and his talent has been recognized at the highest level as he has worked on major projects for the very demanding Dennis Conner, aka Mr America’s Cup.
Johnny will have inherited his feeling for classics from his father Cass, a great sailor who was such an enthusiast for the Dublin Bay 21s in their original rather spectacular gaff-rigged form that when the class contemplated changing to a more easily-handled and convenient Bermudan rig in 1963, Cass claimed that he could easily rig a gaff-rigged DB 21 in 15 minutes flat. And that included setting the jackyard topsail to perfection. So he brought a DB 21 close into the clubhouse (as you could in those days), and in front of a drink-sipping crowd of observers on the verandah, he did the job within 15 minutes. But they still went ahead and converted to Bermudan rig.
Son Johnny meanwhile was enlisted in the NYC Junior Programme as soon as he reached he lower age limit, and when the 40th Anniversary was being celebrated back in 2007, he sent on his memoirs which well capture the flavour of it all:
San Diego, 17th May 2007
The way I saw it.
I am eight years old and my parents are wondering what to do with me for the summer, it went something like this: “Get him out from under our feet”. I was equally happy to stay at home and play in the back garden, invent stuff and dream up ways to frighten my sisters. Chasing them with worms was a good one.
I was enrolled in the adventure of my life.
At first I was lead to believe it was going to be a fun thing with the opportunity to meet new people and friends, maybe making me more sociable as I was quiet child in a world of my own. I bought into this and showed up for the first day. It was great, lots of people all different shapes and sizes, so there we were all sitting around playing with stuff and one-upping on how my father is better than yours, especially at snooker. The chatter fell silent when along came this very tall white-haired lady with an incredibly loud voice. It was at this point I became suspicious as I had just watched Paths of Glory and A Bridge Too Far, I had seen how the enemy rounded up people and put them in trucks and brought to places, unfriendly places.....
We arrived at Sandycove harbour where we were lined up on the pier. I though this was it, we were then forced to line up at the steps and walk down into the freezing water fully clothed and flail around, there were guards (instructors we were led to believe) everywhere, and just to make sure the torture was effective they made us hold our heads under water for 30 minutes, well 30 seconds, but it felt like minutes. Then we were all forced to walk back to the NYC where our fate was to be determined. Freezing and scared, I was cursing my family and wondering what I had done to them.
We arrived back at Camp NYC and were lined up and made to wear large cumbersome protective coats, some were yellow, purple, some orange, I guessed they were labelling us, something to do with our religion. Some of these jackets had large protective collars probably to help protect us from the beatings to come, I thought. Our names were branded onto the “Life Jackets” as I started to call them, knowing they would play a key role in our protection.
We were divided into groups and lead away by the guards into this large damp room with arches and a dank smell of cotton, hemp and mould. This was where we were to remain for all the rainy days to be brain-washed, they started by teaching us knots. I was convinced this was going to be how to tie the very knot that would be the doom of us, I compared it to carrying the cross of Calvary. I decided then to be really bad at it in the hopes that one of my knots would slip open and I could dash to my freedom. We also had to jump up, and hand-over-hand along the light blue steel beam that ran across the dark room, this was to make our arms really strong, they had a plan for strong arms – I will tell you about that a little later.
Food consisted of a march up to Wimpeys for a spice burger and chips all drowned in vinegar to disguise the taste, if there was good behaviour we got to go to the Miami Café. The day was long (except Thursdays when we had to get out early) and after a week in Boot Camp we were all tired and weary. What had I done to my family to deserve this?
The second week came along and we were introduced to the ships, rather large wooden craft resembling a landing craft with the flat bow (I was always looking for the hinges). This is where the strong arms came into. We were grouped into six per team, and the guards waited until low tide when we had to carry the ship down a rickety wooden slip (there’s a reason for calling it a slip). Upon its surface there were large wooden rollers but we were forbidden to use those rollers, and to make sure they filed a fat spot on the rollers, deeming them useless. We picked up the incredible heavy boat, all six of us, one on each corner holding a knee, and two in the middle by the oar locks. Later I was to learn the place to be was up at the bow (by the door), it was lightest. I was adapting to this cruel camp. As we descended down to the icy water again fully clothed, we came across a bright green pungent slime. I had what I thought were special sailing shoes, but as soon as I touched the slime I was down. Down hard. The guards started yelling, I knew I had to get up quickly....remember Calvary!....We reached the bottom and stopped, the guards yelled again and made us wade right into the icy deep, still fully clothed. With the landing craft now floating, we had to master manoeuvring, the craft were lined up alongside the slippy slip, that’s the reason they call it a..................
I stepped on the gunwhale. Now at this point I did not understand the physics like I do today, and when you apply a load to any point of the gunwhale of a flat-bottomed craft two things will happen (once only). The opposing gunwhale will come up as you travel down, and because I am as tall as the craft is wide, somewhere in the middle he two surfaces will meet, your face and the opposing gunwhale. After the initial shock, the second shock comes from the icy cold water. Then I found out what the large collar was for as the guards hauled me out of the abyss semi-conscious. Once inside the craft, we were grouped into two and handed oars. Let the games begin.....
After a week of rowing and shipping oars and coming alongside we were all adapting well to boating, there’s nothing to it. Just as we are enjoying ourselves, we are reminded that this is a work camp with launch and retrieval exercise twice a day. The launch and retrieval is carefully timed at 6 and 12 hours intervals to make sure it was low tide and we’d the longest slimiest walk up the rickety slips, observed closely by the guards from the window of the snooker room glaring down at us. Boating is turning out to be challenging but fun, and the new friends are all pitching together to eventually plan an assault on the guards to free ourselves.
The third week came along and there were large wooden poles with white canvas and a stick with notches cut out of it, why on earth did they have to make it harder? It was perfectly simple with the clean decks and oars and oar locks, now the boats are so heavy with this rig up, my bow lifting position is not that smart as we carry down the slip with the sail pressed hard against my face. After countless days of theory brainwashing in the damp room, we have to pass a few tests to prove worthy to sail, if called upon, out to the US Aircraft Carrier John F Kennedy anchored out in Dublin Bay. The first test was to take the stick with the notches and stretch out the canvas and hook onto a rope loop, without falling over this was harder than carrying the feckin’ boat, the second was to line up two pins while hanging over the transom full of chips and spice burgers. If it had hair....
Most of us mastered that task after a few tries, and it wasn’t long before we were sailing out to the sterns of the ferry Hibernia or Cambria, whichever was in port at the time. This went on for a few weeks and as we settled into the routine it got easier as we went on.
During the time in the damp boathouse, usually when it was blowing dogs off chains outside and while I was trying to get the batteries out of the loudhailer, I noticed a beautiful varnished clinker planked boat, it was almost new, and a very wise man was looking after it. This Man was tough as the rivets holding it together and knew everything about the seas. I knew if I paid attention he would help get me through the summer, he did and he is almost responsible for what I do today. Thank you Jack!
The discipline of Boot Camp had turned us into great sailors, great card players, snooker players....it wasn’t until the third stage we found flagons. But not on the night of May 17th 1975, I was at home doing my homework that night....
Ah.....the memories, I hope I have stirred a few, it was the most wonderful time of my life and I wish I was there to get drunk with all of you and play cards till the wee hours, but meanwhile thanks
To Carmel, thank you very much; I always have my lifejacket.
To Jack Brennan, I am always thinking of you up there, and thanks for teaching me how to tie my shoelaces.
To all the instructors Paul, Ann, Jimmy, I never believed the story of the rabbit and the tree, but thanks anyway
And to all my dear family and friends
Lots of love, Johnny Smullen
PS It was me that stuck the coke bottle in the cannon at the front of the club....
Inspired by Jack Brennan and other master craftsmen, Johnny has gone on to become a shipwright of such skill from his base in San Diego, California, that he in turn inspires others, one of his most famous projects being the complete restoration of the 49ft Q Class sloop Cotton Blossom II of 1925 vintage.
When a complete restoration is contemplated, Johnny doesn’t mess about. The word is that when he and Dennis turned up to finalise the deal on Cotton Blossom and bring her back to San Diego, they found the previous owners sorry enough to see her go, and rather proud of the style in which they’d maintained her. But after they’d gone to sort the details with the new owner, they went to take a last look at the boat. It’s said they found that Johnny had already delivered his opinion on the existing rig by cutting the shrouds and stays at the deck with bolt-croppers, and cutting the old mast off at deck level with a chainsaw.
Maybe that’s an apocryphal Johnny Smullen from taking delivery of another boat. Yet when you see Cotton Blossom in her restored form, it’s clear what Johnny says should indeed be Holy Writ. This is a project of world standard. But what’s even more remarkable is that despite everything the Sailing Boot Camp at the NYC might have inflicted on him all those year ago, Johnny’s love of boats and sailing is such that he has his own personal sweet classic, the lovely 36ft International One Design Altair. She’s sailed as often as possible, and though he can’t make it back to Dun Laoghaire next month for the Golden Jubilee as there’s very major project under way, Altair will be racing with the San Diego classics under the National Yacht Club burgee.
John Lavery’s father Arthur was another of those pioneering Optimist dads back in the late 1960s, and John and his sister Vivienne were both in that first batch of trainee sailors. He ended up winning championships in more classes then you could quickly count, but the peak of it all came in September 1995 when he and David O’Brien of this parish won the Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay.
In fact, the graduates from 50 years of a junior training programme at the National YC can be found in successful positions in many boat classes in many places, but it is the club’s outgoing attitude to those who wish to learn to sail which deservedly provided its most outstanding success. A long time ago a Mrs MacAleavey, a widow with no sailing connections, was looking for a club which would make her increasingly boat-mad daughter Cathy – who had recently bought a clapped-out 420 – feel encouraged in any way to learn to sail. Despite the fact that it was still in process of recovering from a fire in the clubhouse, the NYC showed itself the most welcoming along the Dun Laoghaire waterfront, so much so that Mrs McAleavey felt sufficiently encouraged to buy her daughter a new 420, and that in turn led on eventually to Cathy representing Ireland in the women’s 470 in the 1988 Olympics.
The three children she had with husband Con Murphy went on to get their introduction to sailing through the National YC’s junior programme, and daughter Annalise emerged with the talent and the burning ambition which resulted in a heart-breaking fourth at the 2012 Olympics in the Women’s Laser Radial when a medal had seemid almost certainly within her grasp. But memories of that were entirely laid to rest with the Silver Medal in the 2016 Olympics Rio after a difficult final race in which the lone sailor seemed to stay as cool as you please, while the nation at home watched with bated breath.
That it was ultimately a very personal achievement is something respected by her club, and they claim to have done nothing more than provide the first steps on the pathway, and a general spirit of encouragement. But nevertheless the success is all of a piece with the Golden Jubilee which will be celebrated on May 20th, and Carmel Winkelmann continues in her mission of providing a background of training for young sailors of all types, whether they aim only to be a competitive club sailor, or whether they aim for the ultimate heights.
Thus one of her projects in recent years was to find real support for young Finn Lynch, who had reached that difficult stage of being a top junior sailor, yet still had to find his feet as an adult. Thanks to support raised by Carmel, he became Ireland’s representative in the Men’s Lasers at Rio despite going through the final stages of the selection with a training injury recovery problem which may have had an adverse effect on his performance in as the youngest sailor in Rio, aged just 20.
Whether or not he would have been better off not being in Rio at all is neither here nor there. When you’re 20, four years can seem an appallingly long time. The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 must have seeemed aeons away for a young sailor who had shown many flashes of real talent. It was better for him to be in Rio while learning a lot, rather than kicking his heels in frustration in some dead end. And when he needed material help to see through the campaign, it was Carmel Winkelmann who was there to make to ensure that support was available. That will be something else for celebration on May 20th.
Britain's sailors concluded their first World Cup regatta of the 2020 cycle with a six-medal haul as the Sailing World Cup Miami drew to a close on Biscayne Bay on Sunday (29 January) but Irish 49erfx Olympian Saskia Tidey who has switched to campaign for Team GB for Tokyo 2020 was not part of the medal winners. Tidey, from Dun Laoghaire and her new skipper Charlotte Dobson ended up 11th from 16 and overhauled by British rivals Kate MacGregor and Sophie Ainsworth in ninth.
Dun Laoghaire's Finn Lynch, Ireland's sole entry at the first World Cup of 2017, concluded that 'big tactical mistakes in a World Cup fleet don't end well'. The National Yacht Club Laser ace, who became Ireland's youngest ever Olympic helmsman aged 20 in Rio, finished Miami World Cup in 34th position. In the last five races he had four results in top 20 and one race with a yellow flag at the start. The Carlow native says he is 'pretty disappointed' but knows 'for sure my sights can be set a lot higher for the rest of the season'.
Gold for Dylan Fletcher-Stuart Bithell (49er) and a British 1-2 in the Nacra 17 event from Ben Saxton-Nicola Groves and Tom Phipps-Nikki Boniface on Saturday were topped up with two further silver medals and a bronze from Sunday's second day of medal racing.
Lorenzo Chiavarini captured the first British medal of the final day in the Laser class, leapfrogging compatriot and two-time World Champion Nick Thompson to the third step of the podium.
Ben Cornish started the Finn medal race in silver medal position, and had his work cut out defending it during a testing medal race in shifty wind conditions.
In a nail-biting 470 Women's medal race - the final race of the regatta - Sophie Weguelin-Eilidh McIntyre so nearly made it a third gold for the British Sailing Team, but were edged out by Dutch duo Afrodite Zegers-Annaloes van Veen just before the finish.
Top three by class:
1. Afrodite Zegers / Anneloes van Veen, NED, 26 points
2. Sophie Weguelin / Eillidh McIntyre, GBR, 29
3. Silva Mas Depares / Paula Barcelo Martin, ESP, 39
1. Stuart McNay / David Hughes, USA, 56
2. Tetsuya Isozaki / Akira Takayanagi, JPN, 60
3. Panagiotis Mantis / Pavlos Kagialis, GRE, 68
1. Louis Giard, FRA, 36
2. Pierre le Coq, FRA, 75
3. Mateo Sanz Lanz, SUI, 78
1. Yunxiu Lu, CHN, 44
2. Marina Alabau Neira, ESP, 56
3. Manjia Zheng, CHN, 74
1. Jean Baptiste Bernaz, FRA, 70
2. Pavlos Kontides, CYP, 125
3. Lorenzo Brando Chiavarini, GBR, 134
1. Vasileia Karachaliou, GRE, 28
2. Evi van Acker, BEL, 46
3. Mathilde de Kerangat, FRA, 69
1. Jorge Zarif, BRA, 23
2. Ben Cornish, GBR, 51
3. Anders Pedersen, NOR, 55
1. Dylan Fletcher-Scott, GBR, 60
2. Benjamin Bildstein, AUT, 79
3. Diego Botin le Chever, Iago Lopez Marra, ESP, 91
1. Martine Soffiatti Grael, BRA, 35
2. Ragna Agerup, NOR, 56
3. Victoria Travascio, ARG, 69
1. Ben Saxton / Nicola Groves, GBR, 39
2. Tom Phipps / Nicola Boniface, GBR, 50
3. Nico Delle - Karth / Laura Schofegger, AUT, 66
Laser sailor Finn Lynch will be disappointed with the opening salvo of his 2020 Tokyo campaign at the 2017 World Series Cup Miami this week. After four races sailed the Carlow solo sailor, from the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire is 48th overall after counting 45, 30, 42 and discarding a (51.0) in his 59–boat fleet. Rio 2016 silver medallist Tonci Stipanovic (CRO), part of Lynch's training group, is also down the fleet in 29th place.
Lynch (20) became Ireland's yougest ever Irish Olympic Helmsman when he debuted in the mens Laser class in Rio last year.
Conditions have so far on Biscayne Bay ranged from light to a perfect ten to 12 knots.
It's very tight at the top of the Laser fleet with Jean Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) and Karl Martin Rammo (EST) tied for first with 12 points apiece. Great Britain's Nick Thompson is third with 15 points. See scoresheet below.
Meanwhile, Saskia Tidey of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, now sailing for Team GB with Charlotte Dobson, is lying eighth overall in a 16–boat fleet despite counting both a disqualification and a time penalty on their scoresheet.
Racing continues today.
The first stop of World Sailing's 2017 World Cup Series, the first on the road to Tokyo 2020, sees just one Irish entry from over 450 competitors across the ten Olympic classes from Regatta Park at Coconut Grove, Miami from 24 – 29 January.
Carlow's Finn Lynch will compete in the mens Laser class, a fleet that looks strong with the close training group of Rio 2016 silver medallist Tonci Stipanovic (CRO), 2016 Sailing World Cup Final winner Pavlos Kontides (CYP) and Ireland's youngest Olympic helmsman Lynch not only taking on each other, but fierce competitors like Germany's Philipp Buhl who has won multiple Sailing World Cup titles and 2015 and 2016 Laser world champion, Nick Thompson (GBR).
Also racing is Saskia Tidey, the Irish 49erfx sailor from Rio 2016 who is now sailing for Team GB for Tokyo 2020. The Dun Laoghaire sailor will make her Tema GB debut with Charlotte Dobson on Biscayne Bay.
Miami welcomes back five of the 2016 edition winners as well as 2016 Sailing World Cup Final champions while sailing 'legend' Robert Scheidt changes the One Person Dinghy for the Two Person Skiff.
The announcement comes as the ISF, the new investment support structure for Ireland’s high performance sailing programme, celebrates a year of achievement at every level of competition.
Indeed, Murphy’s medal win wasn’t the only result for Irish sailing in August, with fellow Team IRL members Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern making their medal race in a final hurrah before their recent split, Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey just missing out on their skiff final, and Finn Lynch putting in a strong performance as the youngest in his class in preparation for a medal challenge at Tokyo 2020.
Beyond the Olympics, August was a good month for Johnny Durcan, Fionn Conway and Ronan Walsh, who took second, third and fourth places respectively in the UK Laser Nationals, while Johnny’s twin Harry Durcan, with Harry Whittaker, won the UK 29er Nationals in Torbay, and Tom Higgins sailed the first Irish boat to win the Volvo Gill Optimist National.
Earlier in the summer, there was success for Ireland’s girls in the Topper Worlds at Ballyholme, as Sophie Crosbie, Ella Hemeryck and Jenna McCarlie claimed the podium from gold to silver in that order, though the boys didn’t fare too badly either, with Michael Carroll in fourth and Jack Fahy sixth.
Elsewhere, at the Laser Worlds in Dublin, Nicole Hemeryck — sister of Ella — placed seventh in the U19 girls competition, while Ewan McMahon was second among the boys. Nicole was also second in the under 19s( 13th overall) at the under 21 worlds in Kiel, Germany.
And even earlier in the year, there was a bronze medal for Dougie Elmes and Colin O'Sullivan at the ISAF 420 Youth Worlds in Malaysia, the first ever podium for Ireland in that competition.
Currently all development teams in the Laser, Laser Radial and 49er have moved to Cadiz to escape the cold ahead of January’s annual World Cup in Miami, with further training camps to follow in Spain and Malta in February and March.
But the year isn’t over yet, as Ireland will be represented by Nicole Hemeryck and Johnny Durcan at the Youth Worlds in New Zealand from 14-20 December.
Looking at the longer term, ISA performance director James O’Callaghan will be on hand at a Performance Pathway information meeting at the Royal Cork this Wednesday 30 November where he will discuss, among other things, the results of his recent fact-finding mission to Tokyo.
O’Callaghan was gathering intel on the sailing venue at Enoshima with a view to Team IRL establishing an early base there — identified as one of the keys to Annalise’s medal finish this summer. That will be especially important at Tokyo 2020, where temperatures and humidity will be significantly higher than they were in Rio.
#Rio2016 - The mother of Irish Laser Olympian Finn Lynch nearly missed seeing him in Rio after failing to secure tickets through the official Irish supplier that's become embroiled in controversy in recent days.
The Irish Times reports on Grainne Adams' interview with Newstalk Breakfast, in which she explained how after great difficulty in contacting Pro10 Sports Management in the run-up to the event, she resorted to a Norwegian ticket resale website in order to attend the opening ceremony earlier this month.
Adams also said that despite the special ticket scheme for friends and family of Olympic athletes, Pro10 told her they did not have tickets for any events in the Olympic sailing regatta, in which Lynch finished a respectable 32nd as he preps for a stronger challenge in Tokyo in four years' time.
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, an allocation of unused official tickets for athletes' families and friends was seized from the Olympic Council of Ireland's (OCI) offices at the Olympic Village in the ongoing Brazilian police investigation into alleged ticket touting.
OCI president Pat Hickey was arrested in his hotel last week on a number of charges related to the illicit resale of Olympic tickets, while other OCI members have have their passports, phones and computers seized pending questioning.
Hickey is reportedly sharing a cell in Rio's Bangu Prison with THG Sports director Kevin Mallon, who was arrested on Friday 5 August in possession of hundreds of tickets for high-profile Olympic events.
Annalise Murphy has sailed another exceptional race in the the top ten of the Laser Radial fleet in Rio this afternoon. The Irish medal hope moved progessively up the fleet in shifty conditions from eighth to seventh. On the final upwind leg the Dubliner moved in to fifth position within striking distance of fourth.
The race started in light patchy winds and then built to a 12–knot hiking breeze on the Ponte course.
On the final downwind leg the order was HUN, CHN, BEL, DEN and IRL.
In another huge result for the National Yacht club star, Murphy, wearing the red jersey to indicate her third overall position after two races, overtook the much faniced Dane Ann Marie Rindom on the short reaching leg to the finish to clinch fourth.
Mária Érdi of Hungary was the race winner followed by BEL, CHN and then IRL.
Following yesterday's race win, It's another very impressive result for Murphy in a consistent performance so far in her 37–boat fleet. It's almost certainly going to be a counter in the best of ten–race series this week.
Race four follows this afternoon. No overalls available. The wind has slowly swung from SE to SW. There is a bit more wind on the Ponte course than the other two. Up to 12 knots at times.
4th Place in Race 3!! HUGE RESULT!! #COYGIG— Annalise Murphy (@Annalise_Murphy) August 9, 2016
As Irish Laser sailors Annalise Murphy and Finn Lynch, both of the National Yacht Club, prepare for their first race of the Olympic regatta later today, the Olympic sailing venue saw 40 knots of wind blast out of nowhere and hit the sailing race track from the south-west. With sand whipping across Flamengo Beach, it was an eye-watering reminder that in Rio, you really do have to be prepared for anything. An Angolan 470 ventured out for some high-wind practice, but no one else was showing much interest. With less than 24 hours before the RS:X Men and Women kick off the Olympic Sailing Competition, along with the Laser and Laser Radial, this was not the right time in the four-year cycle for putting bodies and equipment in jeopardy.
Chang Hao is representing Chinese Taipei in the RS:X Men. "My plan was to go sailing today but the wind was too strong so I am just relaxing. I'll set up my equipment and go back to the apartment and take some rest. My first Olympics was 2008, when I was 17. This is my third Olympics, so I'm getting old. But I hope I can go to five Olympics, that's my dream. This time the sailing is close to the city, which is great. I hope i can go and watch other sports, the rugby, the cycling maybe.”
Later on in the afternoon the breeze dropped away to almost nothing. The calm after the storm. The forecast for Monday and the first day of competition looks favourable, with moderate winds and sunny skies on the cards. It could be a perfect way to get things started and calm the nerves after all the tension, the hype and the build-up to this hotly anticipated contest. For local fans in Rio, they will be watching Robert Scheidt open his campaign in the Laser. Can the poster boy (aged 43) of Brazilian sailing write a new chapter in Olympic history and win a record sixth medal?
Meanwhile, there are those looking to make their first mark on the Olympics, such as Alisa Kiriliuk, helming Russia's entry in the women's 470. "This is my first time at the Games but I am not too nervous. My father, Andrei, went to three Olympic Games in the Laser, Soling and Tornado. He is helping me very much. His message to me is: Don't be afraid, just smile, relax, have fun and do what you normally do.”
Arantza and Begoña Gumucio have been sailing together for most of their lives and now the sisters are sailing for Chile in the 49erFX. "It's incredible to be at our first Olympics, and we are loving every moment,” said Arantza. Begoña chimes in, "We're staying in the Olympic Village, sharing a room and soaking up the atmosphere. And when we're out on the water, the local fisherman shout out 'Chile, Chile!' This feels like a home Games for us, we have the South American connection with our friends in Brazil, so we are going to enjoy this a lot.”
For most teams, the first race can't come soon enough. The Nacra 17 fleet, however, is one of the last to start. One team that might be happy about that is the Greek duo of Sofia Bekatorou and Michalis Pateniotis. "We have been sailing together as a team for just four months, so we are still in our honeymoon period,” said Bekatorou of her young partnership with Michalis Pateniotis. Every moment on the water counts for the Greek duo who are being coached by Anton Paz, winner of a gold medal in the Tornado catamaran for Spain, at the 2008 Games. Bekatorou won gold in the 470 at Athens 2004 and bronze in the Yngling at Beijing 2008. Pateniotis has yet to win an Olympic medal. "Working with Sofia it is easy to see how she has achieved so much in her career,” says Pateniotis. "When she sets a goal, she goes all out to get it. We would have liked more time to get ready but we have worked hard for the short time we have been sailing together. We are as ready as we are going to be now.”
Giles Scott was good enough to win a medal four years ago at London 2012. But the Briton had to bide his time as Ben Ainslie was selected for his fifth Olympic Games. Great Britain has won the gold medal in the Finn going back to Iain Percy's victory in Sydney 2000, so there is a sense of expectation around Scott, the four-time World Champion. "For me this moment has been a long time coming, a long old road. In a way it's odd to be so close to it. We've done a lot of hard work to get to this point, and now I just want it to get started. I've done as much research as I can into what to expect, talking to people who have been to the Games before. As of now, it's been how I expected, with more media interest, the measurement and so on, but it feels quite comfortable. Today we have seen a lot of wind. It's a reminder that you could easily have two weeks of no wind and you could easily have two weeks of 20 knots, so you really do have to be ready for everything.”
No matter how much people tell you to try and treat the Olympics is 'just another regatta', Annette Viborg of Denmark believes it's just not possible. Sailing with Allan Norregaard in the Nacra 17 Mixed Multihull, Viborg commented, "The Olympics is even more crazy and mad than I expected. The regulations say that you can only go training at certain times. Everything is very tensed up before the Games. But we know that it's time to bring it on. Game time.”
Reportage by Andy Rice - World Sailing
Results / Entries
A full list of sailors racing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is available to view here. Results will be available on World Sailing's Olympic Website when racing starts on Monday 8 August here
The racing will be available to watch in 2D and 3D via the live tracking. Live tracking will be available when racing commences here
Live Tracking via the Sailviewer-3D Tablet App will be available for devices with 7" or greater screens.
Ireland’s six sailing Olympians have reached their selections for the 2016 Games at different times. Some have been secure with their places for many months, while others have been confirmed more recently, with the final place being filled on May 18th. Now, if all goes according to plan, for the next six days they’ll be at some remove from the petty hassles of everyday life, safe in a cocoon of mental and physical security as the clock ticks steadily on towards their appointment with destiny. The official opening of the 2016 Games is in Rio de Janeiro next Friday (August 5th). Then for the ISA squad, it’s into practice races and the start of the Sailing Olympiad on Monday August 8th. W M Nixon takes an overview.
The Olympic Games are very important for Irish sailing. Some would say disproportionately so, while a few contrarians might even argue that, as a vehicle and equipment sport as much as a physical pursuit, sailing is questionably Olympian in the first place, and certainly not mainstream.
Perhaps. But for a specialist sport like sailing, the Olympics provide a unique four year opportunity to be in the national and international limelight. Over the years, we’ve learned that an Olympic Medal – or even the prospect of one - is a matter for general interest and celebration regardless of how the sport in question is perceived by the general public at home.
Like it or not, the Olympics simplify it all. And the value of winning a medal, even the most modest one, is almost beyond quantification. But at the very least, if at the Olympics you put in an honourable performance, clearly give of your very best, do your uttermost as part of a warm human story, then your sport’s feelgood factor rises to provide new levels of interest and tangible support at official level.
But how can Olympic sailing project itself as something of particular human interest? It’s simple. People want a people story, and while sailors will happily discuss the minutiae of boat design, sail shape and equipment structure for hours on end, Joe and Josephine Public think a boat is just a thing, and an odd, often wet, and uncomfortable thing at that. They want a human story with which they can identify, and if they don’t get that human story - and quickly – their interest will immediately move elsewhere, for there’s any amount of ready distraction in today’s world.
Time was when the Olympics were about catering for the needs of the athletes, but now the demands of an instant global audience dictate everything. And time also was when the sailing Olympics had at least as many keelboat classes as it had dinghies, and the venue was selected at locations sometimes hundreds of miles from the hosting city in order to provide “ideal” sailing conditions.
But in this age of cities, the demands of the glamour city dominate, and if the host city happens to be picturesquely beside the sea, then that’s where your sailing will be, regardless of the effect of a steep coastline and high buildings on the winds of the race area.
As for keelboats in the sailing Olympics, forget it. Ballast keels reduce the need for athletic capability. And forget individuality and a sense of ownership in boats. Today’s Olympic sailing ideal is exemplified by the Laser, with anonymous newly-manufactured utterly standard boats, sails and masts allocated only days before the event, thereby making the athleticism and ability of the sailors the paramount factor, rather than having any technological edge in boat and equipment.
This paring-back of our beloved sport means that the inevitably ageist structure of the modern Olympic sailing team is not at all representative of the true overall picture of modern world sailing, with its themes of a Sport for Life, and Love Your Boat. With our global spread of 143 different boat classes entitled to hold a world championship, sailing is something of a mystery for the rest of the world. Yet it’s only with the artificially-imposed simplicities of Olympic sailing that we get a chance to explain what it might be about.
Or more accurately, we get a chance to see how the general run of journalists respond to sailing. For it’s only with the very big things of popular interest like the Olympics and maybe the America’s Cup, and perhaps disaster stories like the Fastnet Race of 1979, that your solitary sailing journo gets to rub shoulders with other journalists. So when the ISA staged a Press & Radio Conference this week for the media to meet and question the 2016 Olympic Sailing squad, we went along not to ask questions ourselves, but rather to hear what sort of questions these inquiring representatives of the outside world would ask about sailing.
It’s ironic, but once upon a time it was thought that yachting reports should really appear in the social and gossip pages rather than in the sports pages. Yet today, thanks to its involvement in the Olympics with that nationally-electrifying almost-Medal of 2012 and the ever-increasing emphasis on human stories, sailing is now accepted in Ireland as a proper sport.
But the reality beyond that is that all sports, sailing included, are now being reported with the emphasis on the human angle rather than on the athletic and technical issues, though of course good old-fashioned winning is still paramount. But as for how that win is achieved – well, open any sports section of a print newspaper (remember them?) and most of the photos will be of people, frequently in facial close-up and showing extreme reaction to some incident or achievement which is of itself so incidental that it is seldom illustrated.
Thus we’re getting to the stage that serious newspapers are veering away from carrying anything like old-fashioned social diaries. Today any event – whether it be a sports championship, company annual general meeting, or a major political announcement – is reported as though it belongs in the social diary, becoming just another happening in the daily progress through the world of the nation’s social life.
So although Tuesday’s press conference made token gestures of getting to grips with how our youngest Olympic sailor Finn Lynch seems to do all his main training in Croatia, and whether or not Annalise Murphy has been made ill by the fact that she has put in significant time during the past three years training in the polluted waters of Rio de Janeiro (she hasn’t), really what the press corps wanted was human stories based on past events to which their readers could relate, and happily for Irish Olympic sailing, our team could come up with the goods.
Thus next morning’s papers came up with a story in the general news pages about how Saskia Tidey continues to draw inspiration from her 81-year-old kidnap-surviving dad Don, while another paper had the sports pages telling of how Annalise Murphy came within a whisker of winning the Bronze in 2012, but then came to terms with it, put it behind her, and went into the dedicated count-down towards Rio 2016.
Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern, they provided oodles of copy about just how they’ve managed to stay together for so long to such an extent that you could see a spectral “The Odd Couple” sign hovering over them during their part of the show.As for the 49er guys from the north,
And then to give everyone a warm community feeling, we’d the real page-turner of how Finn Lynch of Bennekerry in County Carlow comes to be the youngest sailor in Ireland’s Olympic squad. As the details of that were teased out, we may have learned more about the GAA in Bennekerry and the little sailing club in Blessington than we did about the Laser in Rio. But if the purpose of Tuesday’s gathering was to give Irish Olympic sailing a friendly and responsive human face, then Finn Lynch and his team mates have won gold in the social stakes already.
Their boats? At the conference, boats were very quickly shunted aside in the pursuit of human stories. Boats are trouble enough to comprehend, sailing boats are double trouble. The problem with sailing boats is sails. Mysterious sails harnessing the invisible wind can make the straightforward fact of Olympic participation into something very weird.
With rowing, by contrast, you may have boats, yet it’s so obviously sheer athletic prowess which brings rowing success. But sailing? For sure, athletic ability, training and coaching are more important than ever. But sails and the wind remain firmly in the region of the sacred mysteries. Thus far from trying to group sailing together with rowing and swimming as water-based sports, it’s arguable that the only Olympic area which shares a unique complexity with sailing is equestrianism, for a sailing boat can seem as much of a living thing as a horse.
So how are our sailors of the sea horses going to do in Rio? As Annalise Murphy has more experience of the venue than anyone else, her opinions were of special interest. She crisply dismissed any grumblings about the flukiness of the sailing waters by saying that the unpredictability is so general in sailing in Rio’s winter (or what passes for winter when you’re near enough to the equator) that in the end it’s the same for everyone.
Certainly she’s giving it her best shot, and she has benefitted – as have all the Irish sailing squad - from the involvement (intensive in her case) of uber-coach Gary Keegan of the Institute of Sport. He’s leaving the Institute for a new venture after the Olympics, but for now, he has helped guide Murphy to peak form, thanks to a closely-controlled weight reduction programme as part of a carefully-monitored training plan which, at Tuesday’s conference, had the Irish sailor looking extremely fit and well, with her mental outlook in a very good place.
Inevitably the new-look Murphy has to be the most likely medal prospect, for despite her significant height, she’s certainly rated as a contender by her peers. Of the rest of the team, the two 49er guys have shown they can do it, they won the gold in Palma in April but have been erratic since, yet with the selected nature of the Olympic fleets, they could well be on the money.
Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey on the women’s skiff made it into the Olympic qualification by the skin of their teeth, but if a sporting outlook and gallant determination are keys to success, then their showing will have an added interest.
While the rest of the team have been on the scene for a while, Finn Lynch is the new kid on the block. But despite only turning twenty back in April and then not getting his Olympic qualification until May, he has been maturing before our very eyes ever since he started this particular journey a year ago.
The Finn Lynch story just builds and builds, for not only is he the youngest member of the Irish sailing team by far, but he is competing in the most numerous class as the Lasers will be mustering 46 boats at Rio. And he will find himself racing in the distinguished company of one of the most popular sailors in the world, Brazil’s legendary Robert Scheidt, who at 43 will be the oldest competitor in the Sailing Olympics 2016.
There are great stories already there. And there could be some mighty stories in the making. As ISA Performance Director James O’Callaghan put it, it may be very much an outside shot, but we might even be due a medal. Either way, our dedicated Olympic squad – sailors and coaches alike – have brought sailing centre stage in the Irish consciousness for the next three weeks. But for now, they’re very deservedly in seclusion even if, in the outside world, the rumour mills will inevitably grind on.
The Rio 2016 One Person Dinghy (Laser) fleet will welcome a bumper 46 boats, making it the largest fleet at the Olympic Games.The youngest competitor of all the Laser helmsmen will be Ireland's Finn Lynch, a 20–year–old so fast-tracked that only a few months ago he was sights were not on Rio but aimed squarely at a Tokyo 2020 place. Here's a taste of what the young Carlow sailor can expect next month in the hottest of Rio's sailing fleets.
When racing starts on Monday 8 August at 13:00 local time on the Escola Naval course, a large percentage of the racers will start with high hopes and great expectations.
Laser sailing will see some of the closest, compact racing of any of the Olympic fleets with each sailor receiving a supplied boat, ensuring an even playing field. With races scheduled for inside and outside Guanabara Bay, it will see the best all-round sailor conquer.
2015 and 2016 World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR), London 2012 silver medallist Pavlos Kontides (CYP), World #1 Philipp Buhl (GER), World #2 Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) and 2015 Olympic Test Event winner Francesco Marrai (ITA) will all be major contenders.
However, there is one name on the list of athletes that shines brightly and has achieved more than the entire fleet put together.
Stand up, Brazil's own Robert Scheidt, one of his country's most successful Olympians who will carry the hopes of his nation on his shoulders at Rio 2016.
Scheidt is bidding to become the most decorated sailor in history by winning six consecutive medals at six Olympic Games. In fact, this feat, in any sport, has only been achieved once by Hungarian swordsman Aladar Gerevich who won medals at six consecutive Olympiads from 1932 – 1960.
Scheidt won gold in 1996 and 2004 as well as a silver in 2000 in the Laser. He moved into the Men's Keelboat (Star) after Athens 2004 and won silver in 2008 and bronze in 2012. He stepped back into the Laser in 2013, winning the World Championship for the ninth time.
At 43, Scheidt will be the oldest competitor in the Laser fleet and has signified that the 2016 Olympic Games will be his last. Racing in his home nation, in front of a partisan crowd, Scheidt has an opportunity to engrave his name into Brazilian sporting history for the perfect send off. The 46-boat fleet only includes one other Olympic medallist, and in the pressure pot of Olympic sailing, Scheidt knows how to reach the top.
"The fire, for sure, keeps burning,” explained Scheidt, "I would really like to get one more medal and I think the mental part is really important at the Games because the pressure is huge.
"Everybody knows they only have that week and that one shot. I'm in a pretty comfortable situation because I've already medalled five times. I've done all of that. The experience counts a lot and I think I am going to be able to be mentally strong at the Games which will be an important thing.”
A sailor's mentality at an Olympic Games is vital. Tom Slingsby (AUS) entered the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games as overwhelming favourite in the Laser but things did not go his way. Four years on, older and wiser with Olympic experience behind him he won gold at London 2012.
Great Britain's Paul Goodison was in with a shot of a medal at his first Olympic Games, Athens 2004, but narrowly missed out. Four years later, at Beijing 2008, he stormed to gold.
With Scheidt's 'I know how to get it done' attitude, he can be considered a favourite, especially as strong, leading contenders like Great Britain's Thompson, Australia's Tom Burton and Italy's Marrai, who all have various accolades, will be sailing at their first Olympic Games.
Apart from Scheidt, only Cyprus' Kontides holds an Olympic medal in the Laser fleet after he picked up silver at London 2012, which was in fact his nations first ever Olympic medal. Rio 2016 will be Kontides' third Olympic Games.
Further contenders include Julio Alsogaray (ARG), Jean Baptiste Bernaz (FRA), Juan Ignacio Maegli (GUA), Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED), Sam Meech (NZL), Jesper Stalheim (SWE) and Charlie Buckingham (USA).
The Laser will start racing on Monday 8 August at 13:00 local time on the Escola Naval racing area.
Previous Olympic Medallists
The first ever Olympic medal in the Laser was won by Brazil's Robert Scheidt at the Atlanta 1996 Games after a dramatic start line duel with British rival Ben Ainslie. Sydney 2000 saw Ainslie's revenge, as the Brit match raced the Brazilian for the Gold. Following Ainslie's switch to the Finn for the Athens 2004 quadrennial Robert Scheidt dominated the class and ultimately made a triumphant return to the top of the podium - his second Olympic Gold medal. Scheidt then switched classes to the Star, leaving another Brit, Paul Goodison, to take Gold at Beijing 2008. London 2012 saw a long-awaited gold for Australia, after years of strong Australian performances Tom Slingsby was finally able to capture the top step for the boxing kangaroos.
Recent World Champions
The Rio 2016 quadrennial kicked off in Oman where Robert Scheidt (BRA) announced his return to the Laser in style by taking his ninth Laser World Championship title. Nicholas Heiner (NED) won in 2014 but the Rio 2016 quad was really dominated by Nick Thompson (GBR) who took third place in 2014 and followed it with back to back World Champion titles in 2015 and 2016.
Life as an Olympic Event
The Laser never fails to deliver drama to proceedings. Five Olympic sailing competitions have seen it all; fierce rivalries, winner-takes-all match racing, surprise upsets, Olympic firsts and of course some of the closest racing on the Olympic sailing program.
The Laser was introduced to the Games as an open class for the 1996 Quadrennial. The simple single-person dinghy already had a cult following of thousands all over the world and inclusion was almost viewed as a forgone conclusion. In 2004 the Laser was changed to from open to men's lightweight equipment following the inclusion of the Laser Radial as women's single person dinghy for the 2008 cycle.
The Laser's low cost means it has the widest pool of nations competing of any Olympic Sailing Class and it's not unusual to see sailors from nations that aren't traditionally viewed as big sailing nations on the podium.
What's it like to sail?
Deceptively simple. The Laser is known as a boat that's easy to sail badly. Laser sailing and racing presents a unique set of physical and skill based challenges. At the top level it's a physical class, requiring a very high level of core fitness in order to endure the hiking and body-torque techniques essential to get the boat moving fast.
Short History of the Class and Key specs
The Laser is a 4.19m long, 56.7 kg hiking dinghy with a single 7.06 m2 sail. While not the most high performance class at the Games the Laser probably has the most enthusiastic following.
The Laser's story began with a phone call between Canadians Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce. A marketing offshoot of Canada's Hudson Bay Company had asked Bruce to come up with proposals for a line of outdoor sporting equipment, among them was a boat small enough to be carried on a roof rack of a typical car. As they talked Kirby sketched what would be known as "the million dollar doodle". The now famous sail was the brainchild Hans Fogh who originally designed it without sight of the rest of the boat. Fogh would go on to tweak his design before finally settling on the rig that we know today.
The sailboat idea was ultimately dropped and the drawing remained in Bruce's drawer for several months until One Design and Offshore Yachtsman magazine held a regatta for boats under $1000 which Kirby and Bruce saw as the perfect opportunity to launch their little dinghy. With some overnight modifications the prototype that would become the Laser won its class.
After more tweaking the first official Laser was officially unveiled at the New York Boat Show in 1971. The class took off immediately. The first world championship was held in three years later in Bermuda. Entrants came from 24 countries, and first place was won by Peter Commette (USA). The Laser was included in the Olympic roster for the first time for Atlanta 1996 quadrennial and has remained an Olympic Class ever since.
Today more Lasers have been sold than any other type of boat - well over two hundred thousand of them! The simplicity and low cost of the design means Lasers can be found everywhere from the Olympic Games to the beach in front of your hotel on holiday. The biggest attraction of the Laser dinghy is that it is protected by strict one-design class rules, which means each Laser is built to the same specifications and modifications to boats are strictly prohibited. This means every boat is virtually identical which leaves it down to the skill of the sailor to win the race.
Arguably the greatest champion of the Laser Class is Robert Scheidt from Brazil with two gold and one silver Olympic medals and nine Laser World Champion titles. Only two other sailors can claim more than two Laser World Champion titles; Tom Slingsby (AUS) has five and fellow countryman Glenn Bourke, three. Scheidt's fierce rivalry with Sir Ben Ainslie (GBR) is the stuff of legend. The Brazilian master will be aiming for his third medal on home waters in Rio when the games kicks off in just a few days' time.
On the Rio start line, Scheidt will be joined by a colourful cast of talented athletes, vying for their place on the podium. Pavlos Kontides (CYP) - whose silver medal in London was Cyprus's first ever - will be looking to go one better. Philipp Buhl (GER) and Ton?i Stipanovi? (CRO) who are never far from the podium will both be looking to add Olympic medallist to their impressive sailing CVs.
The Laser has also been home to big names in the sailing world like Ed Baird (USA), Nik Burfoot (NZL), Gustavo Lima (POR), Michael Blackburn (AUS), Mark Mendelblatt (USA) and Vasilij ?bogar (SLO).
Did you know…
The Laser was originally named the "Weekender" with the Prototype sail branded with the letters TGIF for "Thank God it's Friday". It was renamed Laser following a suggestion by student Doug Balfour who pointed out that the name 'Laser' was modern, recognizable and truly international and that the symmetrical Laser beam logo would only have to go on one side of the sail. The rest is history!
Reporting by World Sailing