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Would the Last Woman Sailor Please Turn Out the Light and Shut the Door

28th July 2012
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Would the Last Woman Sailor Please Turn Out the Light and Shut the Door

#olympicsailing –  There's a hierarchy in Olympic sailing which reflects the pecking order in the shoreside athletics. In the stadium, the various specialities will stake their claims for attention. The further down the scale they are, the more vigorously they'll fight for their little place in the limelight. But nobody beats the drum for the hundred metres. They don't have to. It's the business, and that's all there is to it.

In sailing, the pinnacle has to be the Olympic Finn single-hander. It's a brutal beast, a powerful boat, a man-breaker. Becoming the Finn Gold Medallist doesn't necessarily mean you're the greatest sailor in the world, but for sure you're the greatest Olympian.

This Olympic hierarchy is underlined by the sailing programme for the London Olympics. Sailing is accustomed to being different from other Olympic sports, and the fact that the racing is being staged at Weymouth a good 120 miles from the main centres in the capital does little to change this perception. And the programme which starts tomorrow also seems to emphasise the differences within sailing.

The aristocrats of Olympic sailing will have their contests done and dusted within a week, yet other classes have to hang around the venue until the 10th and 11th August. The last race of all is the final for the Women's Elliott 6m class a whole fortnight hence, even though the class starts tomorrow with their initial programme of match racing. Isn't it a bit sexist that the woman sailors have to tidy up long after everyone else has gone?

Maybe so, but we can only hope that whoever finishes last in that last race on Saturday 11th August is aware that they're to turn out the lights and close the door. No point in expecting the favourite for the Finn Class Gold Medal to close up the shop. Unless there's a major upset, Ben Ainslie will have collected that gold for Britain on Sunday August 5th, and a couple of days later he'll be in California to start his programme for the America's Cup 2013. He'll be racing an AC 45 catamaran by August 11th.

Also cracking through their programme in the first straight week are the two man Star class, and here Ireland is well represented by Peter O'Leary and David Burrows. In fact, we're so well represented that it makes us nervous to talk of it. They're on top form, but the variants involved in reaching the podium are infinite. The all-important weather element is now dominated by the fact that summer has arrived big time in the south of England, but for tomorrow's opening race the boys should feel at home, as an afternoon of summer rain is expected.

The Laser single-hander ranks high in global sailing, so both the men's and women's Laser racing in Weymouth is dealt with promptly, with their first race on Monday and their final a week later, on August 6th. Tom Slingsby of

Australia has to be the men's favourite, while Ireland is among the top rankers in the woman's class with Annalise Murphy, whose dedication to the Olympic ideal is a wonder in itself.

The highly acrobatic 49er class sees Ireland represented by Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern. They've been showing excellent form lately and we should see the proof of it by their final on August 8th, but the Men's 470s – Ger Owens and Scott Flannigan sail for Ireland – don't start racing until August 2nd, however they sail their final by Thursday 9th.

Even during a week of racing, the English climate can serve up all sorts of changes in sailing conditions, so almost anything is possible. Our Olympic squad can draw inspiration from last weekend's Silver Medal win in the Youth Worlds in Dublin Bay by Finn Lynch, who belied his sixteen years with an exemplary maturity of approach. That's some going, to be the coolest skipper in Irish sailing aged just sixteen.

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WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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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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