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As 2021 draws to a close, the Irish sailing community has learned yet again that there’s nothing like a major international success by one of our own to brighten the dark days of November. And when that success comes to a popular sailor who has been enduring the seemingly endless frustration of a performance drought, it’s like the sun has come out with mid-summer vigour.

Olympian Finn Lynch of the National YC brightened all our days by getting on the podium with a solid second overall at the big-fleet ILCA Worlds in Barcelona in the depths of November. His resilience in doing so was fulsomely praised by a panel of experienced sailors, who know only too well the depths of solitary despair which can be experienced by formerly successful solo campaigners who seem to have become lost in a wasteland of setbacks. With a mighty leap, our hero had freed himself. And November was transformed.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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Laser Worlds runner-up Finn Lynch of the National Yacht Club, star of our most recent Sailing on Saturday blog, has featured in an in-depth interview on Newstalk’s sports programme Off the Ball. 

Check out the programme below: 

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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:


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: 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: 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:


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.


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!


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, 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.

Published in W M Nixon
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Ireland's Finn Lynch won a Silver medal today at the Laser World Championships in Barcelona and with it, the National Yacht Club solo ace sailed into the history books with the best ever result by an Irish sailor at a Laser World Championships.

Although the Carlow sailor finished the regatta with the best scores across all eight races, New Zealand's Thomas Saunders took Gold after allowance for worst race discard was applied.

Double Olympic Silver medallist Tonci Stipanovic from Croatia placed third ahead of a star-studded field.

Lynch's Silver at World championship level is the best ever achieved by an Irish sailor in any Olympic discipline, eclipsing Mark Mansfield and David O'Brien's third overall in the Star keelboat World championships won in 2000 and David Burrows' 2004 Finn Gold Cup bronze medal result.

On the Laser World Championships podium - Ireland's Finn Lynch (in second) takes his place with the winners at the Barcelona Sailing CentreOn the Laser World Championships podium - Ireland's Finn Lynch (in second) takes his place with the winners at the Barcelona Sailing Centre

This week's world championship was beset by light winds that delayed or postponed racing since last Friday. However, Tuesday's racing saw Lynch deliver his best day yet that ended with a race win in a fleet of 135 boats from 44 countries. He sailed an ultra-consistent eight-race series across all wind strengths. 

Fresh winds were forecast for Wednesday to complete the regatta when a duel between Saunders and Lynch was on the cards but the weather again failed to deliver and Tuesday's overall results remain unchanged.

“I'm extremely happy with the result but it didn't come by coincidence or some luck - it came after a lot of work after not being able to qualify for the Olympics which was really hard on Finn," said Vasilij Zbogar, the Slovenian triple Olympic medallist who is Lynch's coach.

"This was something that Finn needed so that he can start to believe. He was good already last year but mentally he wasn't ready to be in the front. This week was really solid sailing all week and he didn't make any mistakes. He had the lowest point score of the entire fleet meaning he was really consistent."

The result is redemption for Rio 2016 veteran Lynch who missed out on qualification for Tokyo 2020 just six months ago. He adds it to the seventh scored last month at the European Championships in Bulgaria.

"We still have things to work on but good to confirm that we're going in the right direction and we will continue pushing. Finn did an amazing job and now he can start to believe that a medal at Paris 2024 can be achieved," said Zbogar. "A few things had to come together and they come together here at the right time. I knew this result would come one day - I was 100 per cent sure!"

Of the other Irish sailors competing in Barcelona, Howth YC's Ewan McMahon ended 25th overall in the Gold fleet with the loss of racing on the final day denying him a chance at finishing in the top 20 boats.

Under 21 sailors Tom Higgins of the Royal St. George YC finished 47th overall in the Gold fleet while Jamie McMahon (Howth YC), younger brother of Ewan placed 14th overall in the Silver fleet.

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Ireland's Finn Lynch, lying second overall, is in hold mode in Barcelona this morning as the final day of the ILCA7/Laser World Championships is delayed due to lack of wind.

The Barcelona Sailing Centre Race Committee reports a maximum of three knots of wind from the north and northeast plus two-metre waves.

They are conditions that have been judged "Not Sailable" by the Race Committee, and currently, the fleet of 139 entries drawn from 44 countries is "waiting for better conditions".

Lynch is almost assured of Ireland's best ever Laser world Championship result, as Afloat reported earlier here but right now, with such a string of ultra-consistent scores already banked this week, the National Yacht Club ace has his eye on a much bigger prize. 

Yesterday, in the trickiest of conditions, he chalked up a 7,2,1 in the first day of gold fleet racing to give himself the best possible tilt at the title.

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After three gold fleet races at the Laser Worlds/ILCA 7 Championships in Barcelona, Ireland's Finn Lynch has moved up to second overall.

With one day of competition (Wednesday) to decide the overall honours, the National Yacht Club ace is 14 points off the lead in a fleet of 139 entries drawn from 44 countries.

At lunchtime today, the fleet was signalled with 'AP over H' on the water and 'AP' displayed ashore for the Silver fleet bringing Tuesday racing to a conclusion.

The on-form Rio Olympian signalled his intentions of making good on his campaign for Paris 2024 after missing out on Tokyo with a seventh at the European Championships just a month ago.

He has sailed a consistent series so far this week in the trickiest of conditions, chalking up a 7,2,1 in the first day of gold fleet racing today.

Provisional results position of the ILCA 7/Laser World ChampionshipsThe provisional results position of the ILCA 7/Laser World Championships with one day left to sail

Lynch was placed eighth overall after a long day on the water on Monday but leapfrogged some of the world's top sailors at the start of the 70-boat gold fleet racing with a magnificent race win for Ireland in the last race today. 

The New Zealand overall leader Thomas Saunders finished one place ahead of Lynch at the Bulgarian-hosted Euros in October and previously made the Laser Worlds top ten in 2017 and 2019.

Some places 28 points adrift of Lynch is the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Tonci Stipanovic, an indication of the level of competition at the Barcelona Sailing Centre this week.

The prospect of Lynch posting a top result was discussed on Afloat in its World Championships preview here.

Meanwhile, there were mixed results for the other Irish boats in action on the penultimate day of racing in Barcelona.

Howth YC's Ewan McMahon moved up to 25th overall in the Gold fleet thanks to a 12th place in the second race of the day.

It was a similar story for Under 21 sailor Tom Higgins of the Royal St. George YC who had a 15th place on his first day of racing in the Gold fleet where he lies 47th overall.

Jamie McMahon (Howth YC), younger brother of Ewan had a seventh-place on Tuesday in the Silver fleet where he lies 14th overall.

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Consistent sailing in one of the world's toughest dinghy fleets by the National Yacht Club's Finn Lynch sees the solo ace lying eighth overall at the Laser Standard ILCA7 (Laser Standard) World Championships in Spain with two days of finals racing to go.

It's a top performance for the Rio Olympian on Mediterranean waters that also sees two of his three teammates competing in the gold fleet of the championships.

There are 139 entries from 44 countries competing for the coveted world title.

Lynch delivered a solid day's performance on Monday, counting eighth and tenth places to lie eighth overall as well as a 16th place that he discarded.

Light and tricky winds continued to affect the championship, with two races sailed early on Monday in a dying breeze before the 135-boat fleet was sent ashore.

A sea breeze formed in the afternoon that permitted one more race.

At the end of the qualification round, three out of four Irish sailors have reached the Gold fleet for the event, with up to six races planned to decide the championship by Wednesday afternoon.

Stronger winds are also forecast, so a full wind range for the series will produce a worthy champion. So far the early running is bing made by GBR's Elliot Hanson.

Ewan McMahon & Tom Higgins in Gold fleet

Currently 31st overall, Howth YC's Ewan McMahon secured his Gold fleet place, and a top 20 overall place is still within reach.

Meanwhile, Under 21 sailor Tom Higgins of the Royal St. George YC cut the top 70 boats for the finals phase when he picked up four places to finish the qualification round in 45th place.

Royal St. George's Tom HigginsRoyal St. George's Tom Higgins

Higgins showed great form in two attempted races on Monday, but these had to be abandoned due to the fading wind. However, he did secure a sixth place today (Monday), which resulted in his qualification for the finals.

Jamie McMahon (Howth YC), younger brother of Ewan and Ireland's second Under 21 sailor at the event, is in 83rd place overall.

The series will intensify as the best sailors from both qualification flights come together to decide the title.

Three races are scheduled on Tuesday for both Gold and Silver fleet as the regatta runs a day behind schedule.

Results here

The National Yacht Club's Finn Lynch is lying fifth overall after a flying light air start to his ILCA7 Laser world championships campaign in Barcelona, Spain on Saturday.

The Rio 2016 Olympian placed third and sixth in the two qualification rounds to determine next week's gold fleet final.

After a delayed start due to light winds, the 135-boat event finally got two races completed on Saturday with two Irish sailors featuring amongst the fleet leaders.

The Carlow sailor had a poor start to the second race and recovered ground for his top ten finishing-place.

Howth Yacht Club's Ewan McMahon had a tenth in the opening race and led the second race before finding himself on the wrong side of a wind-shift and placed 12th to lie 19th overall for the day.

Ireland has two other sailors competing at the Under 21 level. Tom Higgins of the Royal St. George YC lies 49th overall after a 13th and 41st place in the Yellow fleet, while Jamie McMahon (Howth YC), younger brother of Ewan, is in 72nd after scoring 50th and 30th in the same flight.

Conditions for the racing were challenging in two-metre waves and northerly wind speeds, sometimes over 10 knots but also as light as three to five.

Racing had been scheduled to start on Friday, but light winds forced the organisers to postpone to an early start on Saturday, with three races scheduled.

However, the light winds persisted, and while one race was completed, the fleet was brought ashore before lunch to await an improvement. The weather duly obliged with fresh conditions and a giant sea swell to permit a second race later in the day.

Racing continues on Sunday. The intention is to sail three races back-to-back for both yellow and blue fleets.

Results are here

Published in National YC
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Since the Laser/ILCA 7 dinghy made its Olympic debut 25 years ago, Ireland has sought a top 30 result at the annual World Championships.

There's the prospect of such a result at the Barcelona-hosted championship next week thanks to the current form of Irish Laser ace Finn Lynch, part of a new team bidding for Paris 2024.

Lynch, of the National Yacht Club, will be aiming to build on last month's seventh overall score at the European Championships in Bulgaria.

It's the first Worlds in this Olympic triennial. Hence, while the competition may arguably not be as red hot as the Olympic year itself, a Laser Worlds contest is never lukewarm. There are 139 entries from 44 countries.

The ILCA 7 fleet always boasts a stellar lineup from across the globe. The Brits will be looking to build on their recent European Championships success and translate that on to the world stage coming up against a host of world and Olympic champions like Cypriot Pavlos Kontides and Germany’s Philip Buhl. The class has the strength and depth to put together a very strong start list for this event, and with mandatory chartered boats, the racing will be just as strong.

As the number one Irish contender, Lynch is attempting to rebuild after his disappointment of failing to qualify for Tokyo 2020, so it's important he's on the right tack at the first opportunity.

World Championship results can be highly dependent on the stage of the four-year (or three for Paris) Olympic cycle. The standard builds typically from the Olympic Games and then peaks in the next pre-Olympic year (or maybe in the Olympic year itself if places are still up for grabs).

Howth's Ewan McMahonHowth's Ewan McMahon

Keep improving

Ireland's 1996 Laser representative, Mark Lyttle, a race winner in Atlanta when the Laser made its Olympic debut, says a typical campaign strategy is to 'bang a result early in the cycle and then keep improving your performance to keep results at the same level as the overall standard [of the fleet] improves.  If you start behind the cycle, you have to improve quicker than the fleet during cycle".

So, as Paris hoves into view, successful campaigns are already well up and running.

The Irish competition for the single place on the Marseille start line is already taking shape, and there have been changes since Tokyo in the Irish camp.

Howth's Ewan McMahon continues as Lynch's main rival but absent from the Barcelona starting lineup is long-time running mate, Ballyholme's Liam Glynn.

Royal St. George's Tom HigginsRoyal St. George's Tom Higgins

The former Topper World Champion is replaced by two relative greenhorns, McMahon's younger brother Jamie, who sampled his first senior competition in the silver fleet in Bulgaria a month ago, and Royal St George's Tom Higgins.

Howth's Jamie McMahon, younger brother of EwanHowth's Jamie McMahon, younger brother of Ewan

Mediterranean sailing

Typically, as air temperatures dip and the water stays warm lighter winds tend to prevail in the Mediterranean city at this time of year. Experts predicted winds in the 7 to 12 knots range for Friday, but other weather models are now looking windier.

The lighter stuff would help Higgins, who is proving quick in sub ten knots; for example, the Dun Laoghaire Harbour helmsman won a race at the Radial Europeans in Poland in 2020. 

Two races per day are scheduled from Friday at the Barcelona International Sailing Centre until Monday 8 November, when the fleet splits into Gold and Silver. The final series then continues until Wednesday, 10 November.

Make the cut

Coach Vasilij Žbogar, who was ushered in in 2018 with great fanfare to boost Irish Tokyo medal chances (only for Ireland not to qualify), is coaching again with the hope that Ireland can make the cut, at least, this time.

It might not be too popular to air it in some quarters, but despite 25 years of trying, Ireland has never finished in the top 30 of the World Championships. You have to go right back to the 'eighties to find any higher Irish results. In 1983 Lyttle finished 19th and Bill O'Hara 13th, a record, albeit achieved in pre-Olympic times, that stands to this day.

Lynch's own best Worlds performance is 31, scored in Melbourne in 2020 a position he also got in Aarhus, Denmark in 2018. 31st is also a result also achieved by his predecessor James Espey in Oman in 2013.

Lynch's Euros seventh in Bulgaria last month indicates the Carlow man is on a mission, so could Barcelona 2021 be a breakthrough for Irish Laser interests?

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The National Yacht Club's Finn Lynch got his Laser/ILCA 7 campaign for Paris 2024 off to a flying start in Bulgaria this week by taking seventh overall – a personal best – at the European Championships in Varna today.

Lynch's rivals for the single Irish Olympic spot in three years time were also competing. Ewan McMahon of Howth finished in 21st and Liam Glynn of Ballyholme in 44th.

Lynch's result eclipses his owner personal best performance at a Euros. That, as Afloat reported here, is the 13th scored in Poland last year. 

Ewan McMahonEwan McMahon

Jamie McMahon competing in his first senior event in the Standard rig raced in the Silver fleet in VarnaJamie McMahon competing in his first senior event in the Standard rig raced in the Silver fleet in Varna

Jamie McMahon finished in 17th place in the Men's Silver Fleet.

It was the third Gold medal in a row for the British team at the Senior Europeans, with Michael Beckett GBR becoming the new 2021 champion. It’s the third medal for him at the Senior Europeans after winning Silver in 2018 in La Rochelle and also Silver the last year in Gdansk, where the Brits conquered the podium.

Silver this time was for Croatian Filip Jurisic CRO, winning a Senior European medal for the first time.

Jonatan Vadnai HUN completed the podium, taking the Bronze medal also the first one for him at the Senior Europeans.

Just 1.8 points far from the podium was Russian Maxim Nikolaev RUS on fourth. 2018 Senior European champion Pavlos Kontides CYP was fifth.

Lorenzo Chiavarini GBR, Lynch IRL, Duko Bos, Wannes Van Laer BEL and William De Smet BEL completed the 2021 EurILCA Senior Europeans Top 10.

Results are here 

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