Two Irish 49er crews aiming to qualify Ireland for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games face a stern test when the 49er World Championship series gets underway next week (evening of Monday 2nd December 2019 Irish time). Four nation places for next year’s games will be decided on the Gulf of Hauraki off Auckland.
As Afloat previously reported it is predicted Ireland will need at least a top-eight finish and having already completed this week's pre-world Oceania championships warm-up regatta, team bosses say there needs to be a significant step up in performance if qualification is to be achieved. Results of the Oceania event are here
Double Olympic veteran Ryan Seaton from Ballyholme Yacht Club and now paired with crew Séafra Guilfoyle from the Royal Cork YC are best positioned for the coming week. The duo posted a top ten overall result and appeared in the medal race final at the recent Sailing World Cup held at the Japanese Olympic venue at Enoshima.
A fleet of 91 boats from 30 countries will contest the series that is the second of three Olympic qualification opportunities available to the Irish sailors. Eleven countries have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Regatta.
Robert Dickson from Howth YC with crew Sean Waddilove from Skerries Sailing Club are also contesting the series with growing form that included a bronze medal at Under 23 world championship level this year.
As four-times world champions and double Olympic medalists, Peter Burling with Blair Tuke are clear favourites for the overall win. Burling also won the America’s Cup in 2017. The pair won Gold at Rio 2016 with two races to spare.
“It’s an incredibly long series and if everything goes to schedule there’ll be 20 races sailed in six days,” commented James O’Callaghan, Irish Sailing’s Performance Director. “Olympic qualification is never easy and the depth in the 49er class makes it all the harder.”
While Seaton and Guilfoyle have improved from top 20 in Palma at the start of the season to top ten in Japan in September, the pair have also had to deal with two spells of injury and illness this year but are now enjoying the longest period of uninterrupted training. A significant step-up in performance will still be needed over the coming week to achieve qualification for Ireland.
“The pre-worlds series in Auckland certainly confirms out how tough a task it is,” said O’Callaghan. “Ryan has achieved this level before in previous Olympic cycles though not with Séafra but his experience will be invaluable in this championship. Rob and Sean are in the early days of their senior career and any result inside the top 40 would be an achievement.”
Racing gets underway at 11 am (New Zealand time GMT+13 hours) on Tuesday 3rd December with the qualification round to decide Gold, Silver and Bronze fleet splits. Fleet racing continues until Sunday before the top ten boats contest the medal race final.
If the sailors fail to qualify in New Zealand there is a single European Olympic slot available next April at the World Cup in Genoa but that would be the last chance saloon.