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Feast or famine for Star class

22nd February 2008
Feast or famine for Star class
You wait all day for a bus and then two come along at once. Just like the Number 7, there's a queue formed for the chance to represent Ireland in the men's keelboat class at the Olympics.
Slow, lumbering and short on thrills, the Star is the heavyweight of the Olympic regatta.

It has taken 20 years to produce an Irish fleet but each of the three campaigns now running for China deserve support because no other Olympic class more accurately reflects Irish sailing. In fact, 70% of sailing here takes place in keelboats.

But these greenhorn teams face a far bigger obstacle than each other if they
are to be on the Beijing route in six months time and continue an unbroken
run of Irish representation since 1992.

Mark Mansfield raced at four Olympic regattas in the class, a boat he made
his own, but his best result was his first in Barcelona when he finished
eleventh.

Now that he has hung up his Olympic boots, the next generation are aiming to
be the first to make it into the top ten.

But at an estimated Euro 250,000 per campaign it is proving an expensive
uphill journey.

Unlikely as it may seem, a pairing of 22-year-old dinghy rookies who had
Weymouth 2012 as a target are now also considered to be in the running for
2008.

But first Ireland needs to have a place on the Olympic start line and that
is still over the horizon.

The attempt to secure it was missed at the World championships last
September when 75% of the Olympic fleet was picked.

Now the focus is on April where up to eight countries, including Ireland,
are pinning their hopes on securing one of four remaining places at this
year's World championships in Florida when the 17-boat Olympic fleet will be
complete.

There are good reasons to think Ireland will get a place because of some
fine individual performances, but worryingly enough at this year's only
indicator event so far - January's Miami Olympic Classes Regatta (MOCR) -
Ireland finished t the back of the countries in the hunt.

In Miami, on the same waters where the World championships are scheduled,
Royal Cork's Peter O'Leary (22) and Royal North's Peter Milne (22) were race
winners in MOCR opening eyes with the pace of their progress in just a few
short months to finish 17th.

They are sailing a hand-me-down hull from British medallist Ian Percy, also
their training partner.

It is this kind of result that cast the former Laser sailors as contenders
between the two other pairings of Maurice O'Connell and Ben Cooke, and Max
Treacy and Anthony Shanks. But if Ireland should get a slot there will be no
trials; instead selectors look set to go with gut instinct.

Last year, O'Connell narrowly missed qualifying Ireland but posted 14th at
the World championships with a personal best. It is a result
that brought official funding but little else in 2008 because the pair
were sidelined for MOCR, while O’Connell recovered from a hand injury.
Happily this week he has been given the all clear to sail again.

Meanwhile, Treacy and Shanks from Dun Laoghaire showed good early season
Form last year by placing fourth in the Spring European championships, a
result that proves their worth. They finished 21st in MOCR.

The Star has had an Olympic presence since 1932 and with this level of Irish
interest Ireland will build on Mansfield's pioneering efforts, but just like
a bus route, it needs monitoring in order to run on time.

Of the eight countries looking for the four slots, Switzerland, Norway,
Bermuda, Australia, Croatia, Ukraine and Russia all are single entries.
Ireland has the advantage of multiple crews competing to boost its chance.

But this could also backfire if the world championship descends into an
Irish dog fight where nation qualification ends up taking a back seat and
all three crews get a one way ticket home.
Published in Editors Blog
Afloat.ie Team

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