Although Ireland's Finn Lynch and Ewan McMahon have both made it into the top third of the Laser World Championship 158-boat fleet in Sakaiminato today, the main aim of this week's Japanese venture was always to secure one of five country berths on offer for next year's Tokyo Olympic Games because, if unsuccessful, Ireland will have to wait until Olympic year itself for the last and the slimmest chance to make the Tokyo startline.
It's very early days in the Championships, but in the overall standings after six races sailed, (results here) the last of those five-nation slots is currently occupied by Guatemala's Maegli Juan Ignacio in 21st place with 42 nett points. The first of the five nation places is held by Sweden in tenth overall.
As Afloat reported earlier, Ireland's top sailor in these championships is Ewan McMahon currently in 41st on 69 nett points, a score that represents the tenth unqualified country.
In an example of what needs to be achieved by Tuesday, the 20-year-old from Howth (competing at his first senior worlds) would need to move up 20 places in order to take the last qualification berth as things currently stand. That's a tall order by any yardstick especially given the quality of this fleet that, for example, includes the defending World Champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist, Kontides Pavlos currently in 22nd place.
But in such situations, anything can and regularly does happen and there are still eight races to be sailed. McMahon took silver at the Laser Radial Youth World Championships in 2016 and has been on an upward trajectory ever since but there's no hotter fleet than this one assembled in Sakaiminato so leapfrogging five nations into a Tokyo berth will be tough. What's more, there's a queue of unqualified countries biting at McMahon's heels. The Netherlands, Slovenia, Poland and Portugal, for example, are all within six points of the HYC man.
It has prompted Irish coach, Croatian Vasilij Zbogar, to bet heavily on the elements for Irish success; “It definitely depends on the wind; with lighter wind, anything is possible as the (overall) points are actually quite close. Many good sailors didn’t make the Gold fleet and now we have nothing to lose. For now, it’s not about the (final) result, it’s about sailing freely and having fun.”
Ireland Missed Out in 2018
Unfortunately, Ireland missed out last year when the first 14 nation places were allocated at the 2018 World Championships in Aarhus. This represented 40% of the 35 boat Olympic Laser fleet.
The Laser Men’s European sailing teams who qualified in Aarhus are;
- Great Britain
Six non-European countries also qualified for Tokyo in Aarhus. Those were;
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United States
In addition, Japan as a host nation automatically qualifies for the Games meaning 15 of 35 places were already booked coming into the pre-Olympic season.
After a further five berths are decided between the 44 nations from 58 competing this weekend, it will leave 15 places to complete the Olympic fleet.
These will be available at Continental Qualification events throughout the remainder of 2019 and moving into 2020. Full details of how these places will be distributed are in the Tokyo Qualification System document that is downloadable below. However, from an Irish perspective, if a qualification is not triggered this weekend then only two European berths are still open for Ireland.
These will be decided at Genoa Regatta in Olympic year itself but neither Lynch or McMahon will want to be waiting in the last chance saloon.
If Irish qualification is achieved, the focus then shifts to a trial series to decide whether the rookie McMahon or Rio veteran Lynch will be Ireland's rep in Tokyo. Details of the Qualification System is available to download here.