While the boycott reduced Olympics of 1980 may have given hope to the Irish Olympic Sailing team, it is perhaps fair to say that the performances of the class of 2012 are closer to the positive end of the hope-expectation scale. With superb timing, in the last major confrontation of Olympic contenders, the Irish medal race sailors put in tremendous final race performances to take away a first, a third and a seventh from the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta last week.
With only a few weeks to go to the ultimate competition in this quadrennial, Ireland is set to emulate and perhaps exceed the 1980 result. If we do, it could lessen the burden carried for so long by Wilkins and Wilkinson in the same way that Michael Carruth's gold in Barcelona eventually relieved the nation's unreasonable reliance on Ronnie Delaney.
Peter O'Leary and David Burrows on the way to overall victory in the Star class. Photo: Brian Carlin
In the Star Class, Peter O'Leary and David Burrows have been mixing it with the world's best for a couple of years now and in getting the better of current World champions, Brazilians Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada and the British Olympic Champions, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, the Cork/Dublin combo have laid down a very clear message that the destiny of this year's top reward is no longer the two horse race that many punters have been predicting. With consistency across a variety of conditions, the Irish Star team are no longer outsiders for a medal, but have clearly signalled their intention to, once again, ascend the Weymouth podium come August 5th. However, this Star Class is deep with talent and anyone of ten teams could realistically medal. Canada, Switzerland, Poland, France, Denmark and Greece all harbour aspirations to medal in the Star and our heroes will need to double check equipment on a daily basis to ensure they are not denied by equipment failure, particularly with the additional restrictions on coach support during the Games itself.
Annalise is recognised as the world leader in heavy airs. Photo: Richard Langdon
Annalise Murphy's welcome return to form, following a Radial worlds dogged by inconsistency and a poor showing (by her standards) at a reduced quality Delta Lloyd regatta, augurs well should Weymouth enjoy decent breeze. Recognised internationally as the class's best heavy weather sailor by some distance, it was encouraging to see that she wasn't completely off the pace in the lighter winds on the regatta's first day. Annalise has set out her schedule for the remaining period prior to the Games – more work on light air sailing work should be a part of the work plan.
Ryan Searton and Matt McGovern produced three race wins at Sail for Gold last week. Photo: Richard Langdon
Team officials must be delighted, not only with the Star and Radial performances, but also by the 49er team of Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern. 10th in the 2011 World Championship in Perth must have seemed to be a distant memory with a poor start to 2012.
Less than stellar results in the early season World Cup events culminated in failing to make gold fleet at the 2012 Worlds in Croatia in May last month. However, the Northern Ireland duo bounced back in fine style to record their best result to date. Barely hanging on to the medal race spot in the final gold fleet race, the boys then finished 5th in the medal race, leap frogging three competitors to finish in 7th overall. With three British sailors ahead of them, this conceivably puts them top five in the Olympic fleet. However, form suggests the gold medal battle will be between Spaniards, Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez, currently away on Volvo duty, and Australian World Champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, with the battle for the minor medal between any number of countries - France, Britain, Finland and Denmark are among those – making the Irish team outsiders. But outsiders with a great boost to their confidence, and this young team, should they continue, will have made a huge claim for enhanced support for the next quadrennial.
So, Irish sailing embarks on the voyage to London 2012 with a reasonable expectation for a positive outcome. But for it to be similar to the Sail for Gold result will not only demand that all our sailors are on their best form, but also that there is consistently strong breeze for the duration. A tall order perhaps? Gaoth láidir, le do thoil!