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Irish Olympic Sailors in Action in Weymouth

7th June 2016
The women’s skiff event makes its debut with the 49erFX class at Rio 2016 and Ireland’s Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey are aiming to build on recent strong individual race performances The women’s skiff event makes its debut with the 49erFX class at Rio 2016 and Ireland’s Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey are aiming to build on recent strong individual race performances

All six of Ireland's Olympic sailing team bar one are in action at the final World Cup sailing competition ahead of Rio 2016 gets underway this week in Weymouth this week.

Ireland’s Olympic veterans from four years ago will be first into action on Wednesday morning. The venue is the notoriously windy London 2012 Olympic site though the sailors are preparing for completely different conditions expected in Brazil.

Annalise Murphy in the women’s single-handed Laser Radial event will face all three medallists from her event in 2012 when she narrowly missed a place on the podium. China’s Lijia Xu (Gold) along with The Netherlands’ Marit Bouwmeester (Silver) and Belgium’s Evi Van Acker (Bronze) are all on form but are in turn are joined by challengers such as Britain’s Alison Young, the recently crowned world champion.

Newcomer Aoife Hopkins (18) is also in Weymouth for more competition experience at world-class level after unsuccessfully challenging Murphy for the Irish place in Rio during trials earlier this year but with the radial worlds in Dun Laoghaire in July now the next target.

Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern in the men’s skiff 49er class will be seeking to make good on their Gold medal performance at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma in early April with another podium result to boost their confidence before final training for Rio in August commences. However, four-times unbeaten world champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke from New Zealand are not expected to compete in Weymouth this week.

The women’s skiff event makes its debut with the 49erFX class at Rio 2016 and Ireland’s Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey are aiming to build on recent strong individual race performances at recent major regattas following an injury-enforced break at the start of the year. The pair will be using this week’s regatta to improve consistency across their series with the aim of reaching the medal race final.

Absent from Weymouth is Finn Lynch, the 20-year old rising star of Irish performance sailing who recently won a three-way selection trial to be nominated for Team Ireland. His event in Rio is the men’s single-handed Laser standard class and the Carlow native is currently at a three-week training camp in Croatia. Inclusion in the Irish Providence squad for Rio 2016 marks the high-point of an eight-year career that to-date includes world and youth titles.

268 boats from 40 nations are taking part in ten disciplines, many featuring athletes expected to be contesting the Olympic regatta in two months time. Ireland is competing in three of the ten disciplines the Laser Radial, the 49er and the 49erFX.

The four-day opening series starts on Wednesday (8th June) while the top ten boats in each discipline will contest a double-points medal race final on Sunday.

Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland has a poetic story bubbling under the surface as the Rio 2016 Olympic Games get ever closer.

In the home of the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition, Weymouth and Portland, the Sailing World Cup is the last opportunity for fleet racing at a recognised regatta for the majority of the sailors before the torch gets handed over to the Marina da Gloria for Rio 2016. One Olympic venue straight to the next.

It may be the last big regatta before the Games, but for some sailors it's also the first since they got the news that they would have the honour of representing their nation this summer.

Two sailors in that category are New Zealand's Laser sailor Sam Meech and Australia's Jake Lilley in the Finn. Something else they share, relief.

"It's really important to get through the selection process, it takes about 18 months and it does start to weigh on you a little bit, so to get the nod is a bit of a relief,” said Lilley.

With relief evident and selection confirmed the focus for Lilley is now, as simple as it sounds, racing, "I'm working on a bit of race process here [at the Sailing World Cup]. Most of our equipment is in Brazil right now so the main focus is on racing and not the equipment set up so much. The calibre of the fleet here is full of guys close to the top end so it's all about racing and execution. This is the first and last regatta before Rio since the selection.”

In his 'first and last regatta', Lilley will compete against formidable opponents such as Great Britain's four-time world champion Giles Scott, France's London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Jonathan Lobert and Finland's Tapio Nirkko in the Finn Sailing World Cup fleet.

In another strong fleet and echoing the thoughts of his Trans-Tasman neighbour, Meech also felt the weight lift from his shoulders with his national selection confirmed, "It's fantastic and it's a pressure release which has been building since half way through last year.”

Again with the same train of thought as the Aussie towards the Sailing World Cup timing, Meech said, "It's the last big race for all us really and there are some things I want to work on before I head back out to train in Rio. The fleet looks pretty good. There are a lot of the top guys here so there should be some good racing.”

An area that Meech's preparations differ is in the processes the Kiwi has to get used to, "The fleet size will be very similar to that of the Games so in that respect this regatta is fantastic but working one on one with the coach is a bit different as there is usually a team of us. That's a bit strange.”

Meech won't be totally alone in Rio as compatriot Andy Maloney will be in attendance to act as a training partner, but the coaching will be solely focused on him as there is only one spot per country in each Rio 2016 fleet. This is a big step out of the comfort zone for Meech who usually has a team to rely upon, "There has been five or six of us in the squad every time I have been sailing. It feels really weird not having the other guys here and training with them.”

Whether comfortable or not, both Meech and Lilley will be looking to take the opportunity presented to them at Weymouth and Portland to race in high calibre fleets in the home of London 2012, before they head to the next adventure of Rio 2016.

Getting used to the processes, the similar size fleets, the high calibre opponents and racing in the last big regatta before the Olympic Sailing Competition are all achievable steps for every sailor, including Meech and Lilley who have their national selection confirmed.

For the rest, it is the final chance to test against the future Olympians and push for a Sailing World Cup medal.

Published in Olympic

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Irish Olympic Sailing Team

Ireland has a proud representation in sailing at the Olympics dating back to 1948. Today there is a modern governing structure surrounding the selection of sailors the Olympic Regatta

Irish Olympic Sailing FAQs

Ireland’s representation in sailing at the Olympics dates back to 1948, when a team consisting of Jimmy Mooney (Firefly), Alf Delany and Hugh Allen (Swallow) competed in that year’s Summer Games in London (sailing off Torquay). Except for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Ireland has sent at least one sailor to every Summer Games since then.

  • 1948 – London (Torquay) — Firefly: Jimmy Mooney; Swallow: Alf Delany, Hugh Allen
  • 1952 – Helsinki — Finn: Alf Delany * 1956 – Melbourne — Finn: J Somers Payne
  • 1960 – Rome — Flying Dutchman: Johnny Hooper, Peter Gray; Dragon: Jimmy Mooney, David Ryder, Robin Benson; Finn: J Somers Payne
  • 1964 – Tokyo — Dragon: Eddie Kelliher, Harry Maguire, Rob Dalton; Finn: Johnny Hooper 
  • 1972 – Munich (Kiel) — Tempest: David Wilkins, Sean Whitaker; Dragon: Robin Hennessy, Harry Byrne, Owen Delany; Finn: Kevin McLaverty; Flying Dutchman: Harold Cudmore, Richard O’Shea
  • 1976 – Montreal (Kingston) — 470: Robert Dix, Peter Dix; Flying Dutchman: Barry O’Neill, Jamie Wilkinson; Tempest: David Wilkins, Derek Jago
  • 1980 – Moscow (Tallinn) — Flying Dutchman: David Wilkins, Jamie Wilkinson (Silver medalists) * 1984 – Los Angeles — Finn: Bill O’Hara
  • 1988 – Seoul (Pusan) — Finn: Bill O’Hara; Flying Dutchman: David Wilkins, Peter Kennedy; 470 (Women): Cathy MacAleavy, Aisling Byrne
  • 1992 – Barcelona — Europe: Denise Lyttle; Flying Dutchman: David Wilkins, Peter Kennedy; Star: Mark Mansfield, Tom McWilliam
  • 1996 – Atlanta (Savannah) — Laser: Mark Lyttle; Europe: Aisling Bowman (Byrne); Finn: John Driscoll; Star: Mark Mansfield, David Burrows; 470 (Women): Denise Lyttle, Louise Cole; Soling: Marshall King, Dan O’Grady, Garrett Connolly
  • 2000 – Sydney — Europe: Maria Coleman; Finn: David Burrows; Star: Mark Mansfield, David O'Brien
  • 2004 – Athens — Europe: Maria Coleman; Finn: David Burrows; Star: Mark Mansfield, Killian Collins; 49er: Tom Fitzpatrick, Fraser Brown; 470: Gerald Owens, Ross Killian; Laser: Rory Fitzpatrick
  • 2008 – Beijing (Qingdao) — Star: Peter O’Leary, Stephen Milne; Finn: Tim Goodbody; Laser Radial: Ciara Peelo; 470: Gerald Owens, Phil Lawton
  • 2012 – London (Weymouth) — Star: Peter O’Leary, David Burrows; 49er: Ryan Seaton, Matt McGovern; Laser Radial: Annalise Murphy; Laser: James Espey; 470: Gerald Owens, Scott Flanigan
  • 2016 – Rio — Laser Radial (Women): Annalise Murphy (Silver medalist); 49er: Ryan Seaton, Matt McGovern; 49erFX: Andrea Brewster, Saskia Tidey; Laser: Finn Lynch; Paralympic Sonar: John Twomey, Ian Costello & Austin O’Carroll

Ireland has won two Olympics medals in sailing events, both silver: David Wilkins, Jamie Wilkinson in the Flying Dutchman at Moscow 1980, and Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial at Rio 2016.

The current team, as of December 2020, consists of Laser sailors Finn Lynch, Liam Glynn and Ewan McMahon, 49er pairs Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle, and Sean Waddilove and Robert Dickson, as well as Laser Radial sailors Annalise Murphy and Aoife Hopkins.

Irish Sailing is the National Governing Body for sailing in Ireland.

Irish Sailing’s Performance division is responsible for selecting and nurturing Olympic contenders as part of its Performance Pathway.

The Performance Pathway is Irish Sailing’s Olympic talent pipeline. The Performance Pathway counts over 70 sailors from 11 years up in its programme.The Performance Pathway is made up of Junior, Youth, Academy, Development and Olympic squads. It provides young, talented and ambitious Irish sailors with opportunities to move up through the ranks from an early age. With up to 100 young athletes training with the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway, every aspect of their performance is planned and closely monitored while strong relationships are simultaneously built with the sailors and their families

Rory Fitzpatrick is the head coach of Irish Sailing Performance. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and was an Athens 2004 Olympian in the Laser class.

The Performance Director of Irish Sailing is James O’Callaghan. Since 2006 James has been responsible for the development and delivery of athlete-focused, coach-led, performance-measured programmes across the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway. A Business & Economics graduate of Trinity College Dublin, he is a Level 3 Qualified Coach and Level 2 Coach Tutor. He has coached at five Olympic Games and numerous European and World Championship events across multiple Olympic classes. He is also a member of the Irish Sailing Foundation board.

Annalise Murphy is by far and away the biggest Irish sailing star. Her fourth in London 2012 when she came so agonisingly close to a bronze medal followed by her superb silver medal performance four years later at Rio won the hearts of Ireland. Murphy is aiming to go one better in Tokyo 2021. 

Under head coach Rory Fitzpatrick, the coaching staff consists of Laser Radial Academy coach Sean Evans, Olympic Laser coach Vasilij Zbogar and 49er team coach Matt McGovern.

The Irish Government provides funding to Irish Sailing. These funds are exclusively for the benefit of the Performance Pathway. However, this falls short of the amount required to fund the Performance Pathway in order to allow Ireland compete at the highest level. As a result the Performance Pathway programme currently receives around €850,000 per annum from Sport Ireland and €150,000 from sponsorship. A further €2 million per annum is needed to have a major impact at the highest level. The Irish Sailing Foundation was established to bridge the financial gap through securing philanthropic donations, corporate giving and sponsorship.

The vision of the Irish Sailing Foundation is to generate the required financial resources for Ireland to scale-up and execute its world-class sailing programme. Irish Sailing works tirelessly to promote sailing in Ireland and abroad and has been successful in securing funding of 1 million euro from Sport Ireland. However, to compete on a par with other nations, a further €2 million is required annually to realise the ambitions of our talented sailors. For this reason, the Irish Sailing Foundation was formed to seek philanthropic donations. Led by a Board of Directors and Head of Development Kathryn Grace, the foundation lads a campaign to bridge the financial gap to provide the Performance Pathway with the funds necessary to increase coaching hours, upgrade equipment and provide world class sport science support to a greater number of high-potential Irish sailors.

The Senior and Academy teams of the Performance Pathway are supported with the provision of a coach, vehicle, coach boat and boats. Even with this level of subsidy there is still a large financial burden on individual families due to travel costs, entry fees and accommodation. There are often compromises made on the amount of days a coach can be hired for and on many occasions it is necessary to opt out of major competitions outside Europe due to cost. Money raised by the Irish Sailing Foundation will go towards increased quality coaching time, world-class equipment, and subsiding entry fees and travel-related costs. It also goes towards broadening the base of talented sailors that can consider campaigning by removing financial hurdles, and the Performance HQ in Dublin to increase efficiency and reduce logistical issues.

The ethos of the Performance Pathway is progression. At each stage international performance benchmarks are utilised to ensure the sailors are meeting expectations set. The size of a sailor will generally dictate which boat they sail. The classes selected on the pathway have been identified as the best feeder classes for progression. Currently the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway consists of the following groups: * Pathway (U15) Optimist and Topper * Youth Academy (U19) Laser 4.7, Laser Radial and 420 * Development Academy (U23) Laser, Laser Radial, 49er, 49erFX * Team IRL (direct-funded athletes) Laser, Laser Radial, 49er, 49erFX

The Irish Sailing performance director produces a detailed annual budget for the programme which is presented to Sport Ireland, Irish Sailing and the Foundation for detailed discussion and analysis of the programme, where each item of expenditure is reviewed and approved. Each year, the performance director drafts a Performance Plan and Budget designed to meet the objectives of Irish Performance Sailing based on an annual review of the Pathway Programmes from Junior to Olympic level. The plan is then presented to the Olympic Steering Group (OSG) where it is independently assessed and the budget is agreed. The OSG closely monitors the delivery of the plan ensuring it meets the agreed strategy, is within budget and in line with operational plans. The performance director communicates on an ongoing basis with the OSG throughout the year, reporting formally on a quarterly basis.

Due to the specialised nature of Performance Sport, Irish Sailing established an expert sub-committee which is referred to as the Olympic Steering Group (OSG). The OSG is chaired by Patrick Coveney and its objective is centred around winning Olympic medals so it oversees the delivery of the Irish Sailing’s Performance plan.

At Junior level (U15) sailors learn not only to be a sailor but also an athlete. They develop the discipline required to keep a training log while undertaking fitness programmes, attending coaching sessions and travelling to competitions. During the winter Regional Squads take place and then in spring the National Squads are selected for Summer Competitions. As sailors move into Youth level (U19) there is an exhaustive selection matrix used when considering a sailor for entry into the Performance Academy. Completion of club training programmes, attendance at the performance seminars, physical suitability and also progress at Junior and Youth competitions are assessed and reviewed. Once invited in to the Performance Academy, sailors are given a six-month trial before a final decision is made on their selection. Sailors in the Academy are very closely monitored and engage in a very well planned out sailing, training and competition programme. There are also defined international benchmarks which these sailors are required to meet by a certain age. Biannual reviews are conducted transparently with the sailors so they know exactly where they are performing well and they are made aware of where they may need to improve before the next review.

©Afloat 2020

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