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Medals from Miami if Inconsistency Can Be Ironed Out

19th January 2012
Medals from Miami if Inconsistency Can Be Ironed Out

#OLYMPIC – Now that Ireland's Star, 49er and Laser Radial places are secure for the Olympics, attention now turns to delivering at the event itself. We're only 200 days or so out from the first race of the Olympic sailing regatta so it's no surprise squad members are already back on the water.

This weekend the Star pair Peter O'Leary and David Burrows and Laser Radial helmswoman Annalise Murphy are training in Miami, getting ready for Monday's first race of US Sailing's Miami Olympic classes regatta, an event that is an important indicator in the build up to Weymouth.

If the celebrations from Perth are anything to go by many at home are now expecting big things from our sailors in July.  Expectations are such that a sailing medal has become a realistic proposition. In the pressure cooker atemosphere of the Olympic Games that's an awful lot for a small team to shoulder especially when some performances at the ISAF worlds in Perth showed no improvement since the Summer.

As has already been pointed out in a December Irish Times Sailing Column there is some inconsistency in Irish performances that must be ironed out first if there is to be any bigger celebrations in Olympic year.

Beyond the glowing reports beamed back from Perth there is a need for a critical appraisal of the Olympic sailing performance (with a positive bias) so any problems can be addressed.

There should be no grumbling about such coverage, no-one can argue with the facts.

Criticism about inconsistency is needed. And our more senior Olympians need public criticism if they are to improve.

Ireland's only sailing medal came at the 1980 Moscow Olympics when 62 countries decided to boycott the games. It's not popular to mention that or that since then Ireland has not had a top eight finish.

This time it will be different say the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) who have already pointed to the podium in Weymouth.

There is no doubting the very high standard of results already coming from the Olympic team. Two medal race performances and one just outside at the ISAF worlds this month in Perth are great achievements just months from the Olympic regatta itself. Many nations would pay good money just to be in Ireland's position right now. But behind the celebrations there is concern over season long inconsistencies that followed the team to Perth.

Except for two race blips in both the Star and the Laser Radial where Irish boats counted two bad races apiece, Ireland would have been in the medals in Perth, a first for Irish sailing at an ISAF world championships.

In an overall regatta context this means it's not only about having brilliant races, it's also about not having bad ones.

Take Murphy's season as an example. In her last two world cup regattas she has finished fifteen times in the top ten and has won ten races. Her win rate at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta on the Olympic course itself in July was matched only by Britain's Ben Ainslie. Inconsistency prevented her from taking first place in both events.

More recently in Perth, Murphy won four races, more than any other sailor in her fleet. Her average position excluding discard was seventh. If she had scored seventh in her two worst races, she would have won the regatta by five points. Instead a couple of bad results kept her sixth overall. Sixth in a fleet of such world class competitors is nevertheless a top result for Murphy and a personal best to boot.


Annalise's performance graph set against the top three overall in the Perth Laser Radial class

It was the same for the Irish Star sailors. Having to count a 33 and a 24 in Perth was a killer blow for O'Leary and Burrows. In the 41 boat Star fleet only one of the top three overall won an individual race but the top three rarelynever fell out of the top ten.

Local celebrations and favourable press coverage aside O'Leary and Burrows and Murphy will not be satisfied with results as they stand.


Peter O'Leary and David Burrow's peformance against the top three in Perth

Olympic qualification is in the bag so the question now is what can be done to turn them from world class sailors, which undoubtedly they are, into medal winners?

There are under 200 days to go. There must be a plan to eliminate current inconsistencies. It starts next Monday in Miami.

Whether it is starting technique, tactical decision-making or boat speed issues it is time to put all possible resources into a team that has got the greatest chance of moving Irish sailing on from Moscow.

Published in Water Rat Team

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