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Ireland’s Finn Lynch on Crest of Wave with Silver Medal in Worlds

13th November 2021
Even at Barcelona, the best of the summer is long gone in November, but it still provided “an energetic variety of conditions” for the Laser Worlds 2021, and Finn Lynch (centre) emerged from melees like this to record a great scoreline
Even at Barcelona, the best of the summer is long gone in November, but it still provided “an energetic variety of conditions” for the Laser Worlds 2021, and Finn Lynch (centre) emerged from melees like this to record a great scoreline

While everyone in Irish sailing and beyond shares in the joy of seeing Finn Lynch emerge so spectacularly from a performance drought to take Silver at this week’s Laser Worlds in Barcelona, it is really only those who have fully experienced the extremes of competition at this level of solo sailing – from the grim depths of isolated frustration to the exhilarated heights of shared achievement – who can most deeply appreciate the quality of what he has done.

Make no mistake about it, this was a very special regatta for a large and extremely competitive fleet. Some reports may have suggested a preponderance of flukey conditions, but one seasoned observer – often noted for his acerbic comments – bluntly stated that it was “magnificent” with its energetic variety of conditions, and racing at the highest level.

Out of this, with one race still to sail and a great first place out of what should have been the penultimate contest, Finn emerged with a scoreline of 3,6,8,10, 16,7, 2,1. Clearly, having already been good, he was onto a real roll towards the end. And with one race still to sail, he actually had the lowest gross points total in the entire fleet, but as he was discarding a 16th to the 37th of nett leader Tom Saunders of New Zealand, it was Saunders’ title to lose.

Keeping his cool and stacking up on the carbs – Finn in championship preparationKeeping his cool and stacking up on the carbs – Finn in championship preparation

It was not to be - the planned last race could not be sailed because of calm, and the final points were T.Saunders NZL 1st (23 pts); F.Lynch IRL 2nd 37pts; and T. Stipanovic CRO 3rd (65 pts..) at the head of a notably international fleet of 135 boats in which the Laser Standard (or the ILCA 7 if you prefer) demonstrated yet again that with 50 years and more of successful competition now logged, she really does do the business very well, and then some.

And for Ireland, the special nature of this result simply cannot be over-estimated. While it may be that during the Olympics the Lasers now get their greatest level of general global attention, the fact is that it was the Olympics that clambered aboard the Laser bandwagon back in 1996, rather than the other way round. And that was long after the Laser Class’s World Championship had already become firmly established as one of the planet’s truly great regattas.

Thus there are many for whom the Laser Worlds continue to be of greater importance than the four-yearly Olympic pressure cooker experience. Yet until now, Ireland has barely been at the races in this great event – it’s thought that a 19th back in pre-1996 days might have been our best showing.

But now, suddenly and gloriously, we have the Worlds Silver Medal for an Olympic sailor whose experiences have been decidedly mixed since he was – at 20 – the youngest helmsman in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Bill O’Hara in one of his many international roles, as Principal Race Officer for the Volvo Ocean RaceBill O’Hara in one of his many international roles, as Principal Race Officer for the Volvo Ocean Race

That sage observer Bill O’Hara OBE OLY of Ballyholme, a man of unrivalled experience in every aspect and form of international sailing, has put it crisply into perspective for us:

BILL O’HARA’S OPINION

Finn Lynch's result is the best Irish result ever at an Olympic Class Event World Championship. Mark Mansfield & David O'Brien were third in the Star Class in 2000, and David Burrows was third in the Finn Class Worlds in 2004. They were the previous contenders, but I think they would all agree that Finn's result is incredibly impressive.

What's even more impressive was his strength of character to recover from missing out on qualifying for the Olympic Games in April. He took stock, worked hard with his coach Vasilij Zbogar and produced a seventh in the Europeans last month, and now a second in the Worlds.

Finn’s coach, Vasilij Zbogar of Slovenia, has won two Olympic Silver and one Olympic Bronze in sailingFinn’s coach, Vasilij Zbogar of Slovenia, has won two Olympic Silver and one Olympic Bronze in sailing

Missing the cut for the Tokyo Olympics had been a savage blow for Finn Lynch after a long period of steady training and competition since he went into the Olympics at the deep end in 2016, but it is something which is well understood by Mark Lyttle who – in 1996 – was Ireland’s Laser sailor at the class’s first appearance, at the Atlanta Olympics, when he recorded a race win.

In order to reach the level required, he was the first Irish Laser sailor to take up campaigning full time, supported by a discreetly assembled team of backers who were keen to see Irish Olympic sailing move onto a proper professional basis with the resources to concentrate full time on one class.

Thus Mark Lyttle was very much in a pioneering role a quarter of a century and more ago, but despite it being a challenging experience, it has not dented his love of Laser racing, his most recent major achievement being winning the Lasers Masters Worlds in Dublin Bay in 2018. Nevertheless he can remember the down times in the long countdown to Atlanta, and particularly a six month period when nothing was going right, and he had to step back and – successfully as it emerged – re-dial the whole business.

Mark Lyttle, Ireland’s first Olympic sailor in the Lasers in 1996, is seen here as winner of the Laser World Masters in Dublin Bay in 2018. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienMark Lyttle, Ireland’s first Olympic sailor in the Lasers in 1996, is seen here as winner of the Laser World Masters in Dublin Bay in 2018. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

It was an experience which gives him a special insight into Finn Lynch’s extended period of disappointing results. In a class as numerous and globally popular as the Laser, inevitably it’s something many talented helms will share – the new World Champion Tom Saunders, for instance, has been banging at the door of a major podium place for ten years. But in Mark Lyttle’s case, those six months of frustration and disappointment in the 1990s have a greater relevance, as he knows only too well how such things play out within the Irish sailing context, so his thoughtful comments this week carry extra weight:

MARK LYTTLE’S THOUGHTS

It's a tremendous result and a great platform on which to go forward.

The real benefit of a super result like this is around the building of confidence. ILCA boats provide no technical advantage no matter how much money you spend, and boat speed starts to equalise when everyone is sailing full-time, so psychology becomes more and more important. It is about confidence that has been backed up by results, and has real foundation. Knowing you can do it because you have done it.

And it is not just about confidence, it is about dealing with stress and tension when the pressure is on, and also building resilience to deal with the ups and downs, not just in a regatta, but around the campaign as a whole. These experiences are the foundation of getting top results at the Olympics. And of course in the short term, it provides motivation for a hard winter of training.

ANNALISE MURPHY & CATHY MAC ALEAVEY’S THOUGHTS

However, while Bill O’Hara and Mark Lyttle know Finn Lynch primarily as a sailor, 2016 Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy and her mother Cathy Mac Aleavey – an Olympian in the 470 Class in 1988 – know him as sailor, friend and shipmate, something which was well demonstrated in the summer of 2020 as sailing began to emerge from the first pandemic lockdown, when Finn was invited to race with Annalise in the family’s Water Wag in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, the friendship being strengthened by a handy win.

Finn Lynch and Annalise Murphy winning a Water Wag Race in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, July 2020. Photo: Con MurphyFinn Lynch and Annalise Murphy winning a Water Wag Race in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, July 2020. Photo: Con Murphy

That Water Wag race seen again in this week’s congratulatory Tweet from Annalise.That Water Wag race seen again in this week’s congratulatory Tweet from Annalise.

Both Cathy and Annalise are now very much in post-Olympic mode, with the latter immersed in an MBA at Trinity College Dublin, while Cathy – having excelled in classic boat-building under the tutelage of the late great Jimmy Furey of Lecarrow – has been somewhat taken up with dog breeding. Yet here again she has been blessed with success, and Mac Aleavey Kennels are showing splendid new sibling pups, one golden and the other black.

Olympic sailor and classic boat-builder Cathy Mac Aleavey’s latest venture. Photo: Cathy Mac AelaveyOlympic sailor and classic boat-builder Cathy Mac Aleavey’s latest venture. Photo: Cathy Mac Aelavey

Despite all this, they have been following Finn Lynch’s progress with sympathetic understanding, and some celebration in the Kennels this week produced the following statement:

Sailing is such a difficult sport, especially the Laser Standard Fleet where the depth of talent is so high.

To keep on trying after the disappointment of not making the Tokyo Olympics shows his strength of character.

We think Carmel Winkelmann must be thrilled wherever she is. She never lost her faith in Finn.

Roll on Paris 2024!

CARMEL WINKELMANN’S CONTRIBUTION

That reference to the late Carmel Winkelmann will have immediately rung a bell with many who monitor Irish sailing, and particularly Dublin Bay racing. Through her fifty years and more of junior training and general encouragement for promise shown in the National Yacht Club and Dun Laoghaire harbour generally, Carmel had become a formidable talent scout, so much so that when the news broke of Finn’s Silver Medal on Wednesday, Afloat.ie immediately had one-liners with “That’s one for Carmel” as their brief but clear theme. Perhaps this can best be explained by our Sailing on Saturday for July 23rd 2016

The late Carmel Winkelmann and the young Finn Lynch at the National Yacht Club in July 2016. Photo: W M NixonThe late Carmel Winkelmann and the young Finn Lynch at the National Yacht Club in July 2016. Photo: W M Nixon

The story of how a boy from Benekerry in the lovely depths of County Carlow came to frontline international sailing by way of Blessington Sailing Club in the Wicklow Hills and the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire now has a profound added resonance. And while we can’t properly publish some of the private emails we’ve received from the trans-national coaching brotherhood about their genuine and unfeigned delight in Finn Lynch’s success, let’s just say that for an extremely special select international group, this is seen as very good news indeed. Nevertheless, they’re concerned that the powers-that-be truly realise that right now is the time that Finn Lynch will need a new level of psychological and organisational support. Time will tell.

WM Nixon

About The Author

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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