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Irish Olympic Sailors Ready to Race at Trofeo Princesa Sofia

26th March 2016
Mens Olympic Laser action at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Regatta. 13 Irish sailors are racing next week in Mallorca Mens Olympic Laser action at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Regatta. 13 Irish sailors are racing next week in Mallorca Photo: Jesus Renedo

The counter clicks down. On Monday there are just 130 days to go until the 2016 Olympic Sailing regatta starts and in Mallorca the curtain will rise on the crucial, high pressure European Olympic regattas season when more than 800 boats take to the Bay of Palma for the 47th Trofeo Princesa Sofia IBEROSTAR. 

Just qualified for Rio, Irish 49er skiff pair Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey will be among 13 Irish sailors competing on the Bay of Palma. Three Irish Laser sailors are in Mallorca for the second part of their neck and neck trial. James Espey leads Finn Lynch by a point and Fionn Lyden is five points off the lead. As well as the the trialists Kinsale's Darragh O'Sullivan is also competing in the Laser division.

There is a red hot fleet of 150 in the mens Laser class where even qualifying for the 60–boat gold fleet represents a big achievement in itself. A stand out performance such as Lynch's gold fleet finish a fortnight ago at the European Championships would give the edge in what is a neck–and–neck race for the single Irish berth.

Ireland has now qualified for four sailing events at the Rio 2016 Olympics including the Men’s 49er skiff, Laser Standard, Laser Radial as well as the 49erFX women’s event. 

Oisin McClelland from Northern Ireland is competing in the Finn class, the Donaghdee man had some promising races in the Europeans two weeks ago and has been based in Valencia all winter. His main target this year is the Finn Junior worlds.

The popular, showcase Balearic Olympic regatta is an Olympic qualifying regatta for the first time. So this week represents the last chance to secure the remaining Olympic places for European nations in each of the ten Olympic classes, and also for one African nation in the Finn and the Nacra 17 Class.

Suffice to say the pressure on certain sailors is only set to rise here. And almost inevitably the long cherished, hard fought for dreams of competing at the 2016 Olympic regatta in Rio, for many will be left behind on the Bay of Palma.

Such are the stakes at this 47th Trofeo Princesa Sofia IBEROSTAR - Olympic qualification - that the total complement of entries across the classes is significantly higher than at the corresponding regatta back in 2012 when all that was offered was silverware, the chance to polish up the processes in hard racing conditions and to check in with the opposition.

There are 220 more boats entered this year than raced here in the lead up to London 2012. Entries officially close Sunday but already in excess of 800 boats are registered representing 68 different nations, three more nations competing here than in 2012.

Proud of their long history of producing what many sailors regard as the best, most professionally run Olympic regatta in the Med the organisers have upped their game too.

"For us this is very special to have Olympic selection here. It's our chance to shine. We have more responsibility to the sailors to be more professional than ever, to run better races. People are taking a lot of risks here, there is a lot of pressure on them and we need to respond, all making that extra effort on the water." says Ferran Muniesa, Regatta Director.

"We have added an eighth race area, up from seven in the past, just to ensure we are as efficient as we can be, looking to make it easier to get right through the qualifying shcedule on the first days."

"And we have talked closely with the classes and the sailors, listening to what they wanted here to make the regatta the best it can be. For example the Nacra 17s wanted all their boats weighed. And the Finns requested a specific Race Officer to be with us."

The regatta have made a significant investment in time and money to develop an APP which is available on IOS and Android. It is designed to show the race tracks for fans, friends and families of the competitors. It also allows media to follow racing remotely. The application (APP) provides access to all the information available on the web (live information from the race course, regatta results, bulletin boarda, news and multimedia) and also allows the user to select one or more sailors or one or more classes to follow, to receive notifications with the most relevant information on the specified sailors or classes.

All of the classes have strong entries. Some contain most of what would be considered the top medal favourites for Rio.

Medallists, Champions are here
The record entry in the Nacra 17s have five duos of the top six finishers at last month's world championships including France's four times world champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou. The Finn class includes Gold Cup holder Giles Scott (GBR), recently crowned European champion Pieter-Jan Postma (NED), Brazil's Miami World Cup winner Jorge Zarif, Denmark's 2012 Olympic silver medallist and runner up in Miami Jonas Hogh-Christensen, Europeans runner up and four of the top six ISAF ranked sailors.

Brazil's legendary Robert Scheidt, Miami World Cup winner must be top seed in the Laser class which is at maximum capacity but misses a few top names. Among those not here are GBR's World Champion Nick Thompson and Australia's Tom Burton.

The Women's Laser Radial class sees China's Olympic Gold medalist Lijia Zu stepping up her compressed, compact 2016 Olympic campaign after her sixth placed Europeans finish and 12th in Miami. Belgium's 2012 Bronze Medallist Evi Van Acker, 2012 Bronze Medallist heading for her third Olympics lines up. New European Champion Marit Bouwmeester (NED) is not here but the Europeans' third, fourth and fifth placed Josefin Olsson (SWE), Tuula Tenkanen (FIN) and 2008 Silver Medallist Gintare Scheidt (LTU)- the winner of the 2015 Rio test event are all racing in the 95 boat field. The Men's 470 fleet features helms and or crew which won all three 2012 Olympic medals.

Inevitably some selection battles will go to the wire. For example while the USA Sailing Team have already selected in five classes, Australia have chosen in three classes - 470 Men, 49er and Nacra 17 and the British Sailing Team have selected in eight classes , their selection trials continuing in the 470 men and 49er classes are ongoing. Among the most engaging internal battles this week will be that for the USA's Laser berth between Charlie Buckingham and Erik Bowers, similarly an ongoing rivalry in the Finn Class between Australia's Oliver Tweddell and Jake Lilley. There are many more through the fleets.

Whether they have only recently secured their selection or actually booked their tickets to Rio as early as last year in Santander at the ISAF Sailing World Championships, for dozens of other sailors this week is much more about learning hard miles in the white heat of competition. After beating Olympic Silver Medallist Zach Railey for the USA Finn berth Caleb Paine has swapped one type of pressure for another:

"Now it is about testing everything and making sure I am best prepared for the Olympics. The immediate stress is relieved slightly but here it is about seeing how I stack up agains the rest of the competition. I have the ability now to focus on my complete racing. It is going to be a great event with such a high quality fleet. Definitely here I want to work on my downwind speed."

Published in Olympic Team

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