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Standing Up in a Hammock

19th May 2012
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Standing Up in a Hammock

#STAR SAILING – The last time anyone said the Olympic buildup is great crack for the participants must have been way back in the previous millennium. That's if it was ever said at all at any time since the first Olympics in ancient Greece, and on current form the Greeks -ancient or otherwise - just don't do great crack.

But in Olympic sailing, as in every other discipline in the five ring circus, the first thing that seems to fall by the wayside is the notion that it's all supposed to be sport. As for any anticipation of the participants having some sweet and uncomplicated enjoyment through sport, let alone any fun, that doesn't really figure at all.

Oh for sure, there are people whose stupendous sporting gifts and their enjoyment of them is truly life-enhancing. But they seem as rare as hen's teeth. For every Ronnie Delany and Usain Bolt ulluminating the planet, there seem to be zillions of grey little wannabee Olympians battling doggedly towards some goal whose only real reward is that, in winning it, they will manage to deprive someone else equally uninspiring of their narrow satisfaction.

It's bad enough when we hear people talking endlessly of their struggles, but regrettably that's too seldom. Usually, we're dished up wall-to-wall grim struggles. Always grim struggles. For much of the Olympic buildup, the Grim Struggle Is Your Only Man.

So let's hear it for the Olympic Star Class boat, which is so crazy it has to be fun. The basic design of the hull was created many years ago for something as gentle as sailing on the placid lakes of the American south, where your greatest excitement might be an alligator attack. But as 'gators generally didn't find Star boats a toothsome morsel, the big challenge sailing them on sleepy lakes was to stay awake.

To liven it up, somebody took a Star boat racing on the sea, which was daft. But others followed suit all the way down the line to becoming an Olympic class. Some Olympic sailing venues are pretty much open sea stuff – this August's sailing Olympiad at Weymouth in southern England is one such. In livelier Weymouth weather, the Star is a boat which would be relished by folk who think the perfect way to have sex is standing up in a hammock.

On the sea in breezy weather, the Star Class boat is a floating torture chamber. The only reason the Spanish Inquisition didn't have a fleet of them – painted black, of course - was because they hadn't been invented. That said, they've been around for a very long time. So they're supposed to get the chop as an Olympic class after this year's event. But as two of Brazil's greatest sports heroes in any discipline, Robert Scheidt and Torben Grael, are Star sailors, sensible folk wouldn't bet against the Star being big in Brazil's Olympics in 2016.

They deserve their place in the sun for putting the sport and the fun back into top class sailing when their World Championship concluded at Hyeres in southern France last weekend. Admittedly, the top ten had long since qualified to be their national Olympics representative, so this allowed pure sport to emerge as the dominant flavour. But with ten crews - including Ireland's Peter O'Leary & David Burrows - in with a shout of being the new world champs and it all coming down to the final race, it was game on, and then some

Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada won by an acclaimed hairsbreadth, because until that final race, through the preceding Hyeres Olympic Week and for much of the worlds the dominant crew had been Olympic superstars Ian Percy and Bart Simpson of Britain. So the Brazilians have brought it back to life, some people might actually have had some fun, and even if the Irish duo were pipped for a Bronze Medal by the Danes, their solid fourth and performance generally really does bode very well indeed for Weymouth.

W M Nixon's sailing column is in the Irish Independent on Saturdays

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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