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Lack of wind in Qingdao leaves Irish becalmed

8th August 2008
Lack of wind in Qingdao leaves Irish becalmed
It's not official yet but sailing looks set to be become the next extreme sport when the Olympic regatta starts tomorrow.


If smog, strong currents and the absence of wind was not enough of an obstacle there's even more trouble lurking in the deep for the combined
fleet of 400 sailors in Qingdao.

But the time for whinging about the vagaries of the Yellow Sea venue is long since gone; having completed two test events here last year and in 2006 the world's top crews are resigned to a tortuous fate starting tomorrow.

It is a series not only predicted to be cut short due to lack of wind but a
washout of a sporting spectacle as well.

Ireland is represented by a four boat team, three of which make their Olympic debut.

After several days of moderate breeze (six knots) it was a frustratingly
calm day in Qingdao yesterday (Thursday). The flotilla of regatta
management, race committee and media boats, Finn and Yngling fleets had
waited for over an hour for the wind to settle and fill under mostly sunny
skies before abandoning.

Sailors have been dealing with the situation as best they can and this week
optimised craft have been unveiled; 62 nations aiming to be the fastest at
floating in the fog.

Focussing on a Gold or nothing approach Holland's Tornado champion Mitch
Booth is to use a Code zero gennaker built especially for the light conditions expected. The general feeling is that if the conditions are light, Booth would end up a half a leg in front as his boat is significantly faster upwind.

And the Irish squad are also to the fore in light air development.

Dun Laoghaire's Ger Owens and Phil Lawton will hoist a mainsail this morning using the lightest saicloth available. It's a development that will save
them half a kilogramme aloft. Regrettably it's a technical advantage that has been spotted and copied by at least one other team.

Ireland's 470 pair is the most experienced of the Irish crews. They're also
the lightest in class and, say insiders, the most likely to reach the target
set by them by sailing officials here by finishing in the top eight.

This week the pair have been afloat and practising in six and nine knots.
Also afloat were Star pairing Peter O'Leary and Steven Milne in the mens
keelboat and both single handers Ciara Peelo debuting in the Laser Radial
and Tim Goodbody in the Finn.

Lawton as 470 crewman has lost 20 kilograms in weight (going from 83 to 64
in 12 months) an indication of the lengths that sailors are prepared to go
to in order to race in a series that Britian's Ben Ainslie has already
predicted 'a nightmare'. "It's like running the 100 metres with pot holes"
he said.

There is no doubt that on paper Britain has the strongest team, and Ainslie
its lynchpin, but significantly the strongest nation has lowered its
expectations because it faces such a snakes and ladders challenge on the
Yellow Sea.

And if its enough to knock the wind out of Team GBR sails it is a daunting
prospect for a rookie Irish squad.

The return of the weed might sound more like a horror story than a freak of
nature that could still wreck the Olympic regatta but a carpet of foul
smelling algae remains out there over the course areas, kept at bay by the
might of the Chinese navy.

The World Sailing Federation appears to have held little sway when it
allowed the world's top sailing regatta to proceed in one of the most
windless places on the planet. Now over the next two weeks it must witness
the results of such inaction.

It's all very well maintaining that the conditions will be the same for
everyone but the light winds will inevitably lead to shortened races where
good fortune rather than pure ability will play a leading role.

But in adversity lies opportunity says Irish team manager James O'Callaghan
who aims for a finish in the top eight. And the luck of the Irish might just
play a bigger part this year.

Amazingly a top eight result - in spite of the hype behind the big hopes for
Sydney and Athens - has not been achieved since 1980 - when Ireland took
silver in Moscow.

O'Callaghan says he does not want to curse Owens and Lawton by making pre
regatta predictions but he favours the 470 duo to make the top eight. With
smog, strong tides, foul smelling algae and no wind to contend with it is
hard to see how such positive insight could be a jinx.

Irish in action on the Yellow Sea
Tim Goodbody (Finn dinghy) - Aug 9-18
Ciara Peelo (Laser Radial dinghy) - Aug 11-21
Ger Owens and Phil Lawton (470 dinghy) - Aug 11-20
Peter O'Leary and Steven Milne (Star keelboat) -Aug 14-22
Published in Editors Blog Team

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