Despite a bravo performance by young Dublin skiff sailors who finished in the top quarter of the 88-boat fleet, an Irish Tokyo 2020 berth was not secured in Auckland today.
Four European countries were selected this week in a championship won by multiple Olympic and now five-time world champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand.
Now, in order to make the Tokyo startline at all, the two Irish skiff crews will be forced to scrap it out for one last remaining European country Olympic place to be decided in Genoa, Italy next April. It's a scenario that highlights why qualification at the 2018 Worlds in Aarhus was so important for Ireland two years ago.
Ireland, Belgium and Italy will be contenders for this single place (Ireland finished ahead of both Italy and Belgium this week) and the Irish Olympic representative will be decided by whichever crew qualifies the country, if any.
Team manager James O'Callaghan admits "Genoa will be a dogfight to qualify as it is a notoriously light airs and shifty venue".
22nd for Dickson & Waddilove
World Under 23 bronze medallists Robert Dickson (Howth YC) and Sean Waddilove (Skerries Sailing Club) ended the Gold fleet series in 22nd place overall in their best ever performance at senior level.
"This is a huge confidence boost, there's no reason we can't be back in the Gold fleet again."
Seaton Wants 'More Racing Experience'
Double-Olympic veteran Ryan Seaton (Ballyholme Yacht Club) with crew Séafra Guilfoyle (Royal Cork YC) didn't make the Gold fleet after losing out on a three-way tie-break on Thursday and sailed the remainder of the 17-race series in the Silver group.
"We're awfully disappointed with how our regatta turned out but very happy to see the young guys make Gold fleet," said Seaton. "But we know what we have to work to improve and it's not boat-speed - more racing experience will allow us to develop roles and better communication between us; we need to stick to our processes on board."
Spain, Austria, The Netherlands and Poland took the four country qualification places available in New Zealand.
Burling & Tuke Win Fifth World Title
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have won a fifth world title to add to the four consecutive victories they enjoyed between 2013 and 2016. This will be one of the sweetest victories, however, not least because it’s on home waters, but also because of how hard the Kiwis were forced to work for this gold medal.
Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel had made a bit of a mess of the previous day’s racing but the Germans really turned it on at the end of the competition. With Burling/ Tuke forced out of the first Gold Fleet race of the morning due to a broken tiller extension, the Germans had the opportunity to close the points gap. Heil/ Ploessel came from deep in the pack to record a ninth place and then were fast out of the blocks in the next race, winning that one at a canter. Fortunately for home fans Burling/ Tuke had recovered their composure to finish third behind the Germans.
This gave New Zealand an 8-point gap going into the double-points, 10-boat Medal Race, effectively a four-boat buffer on their German rivals. As good as in the bag for the talented New Zealanders, surely...
But no! While racing up the first beat the Germans forced the Kiwis to tack off and Burling slipped from his trapeze handle during the tack to almost capsize. Rounding the windward mark in ninth and out of gold medal position, Burling and Tuke turned on their downwind jets - moving up the fleet and with a few more passes were up into fourth. With the Germans in second there was nothing left that could be done by Heil and Ploessel. Burling and Tuke rose to the occasion despite showing some rare unforced errors, and were pushed hard all the way by Heil and Ploessel. After a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Games, the Germans have displayed sufficient class to be able to dream of beating the New Zealanders to the top step at Tokyo 2020 next summer.
After looking like they might not even make the 25-boat cut for Gold Fleet earlier in the week, Diego Botin & Iago Marra (ESP) made the comeback of the regatta. The Spanish had a shot at the bronze medal if things went their way, and winning the Medal Race was the best way for them to conclude their time in Auckland. The 2017 World Champions Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell (GBR) looked to be in trouble but the Brits finished 8th in the Medal Race which was sufficient to hang on to the last medal by a single point from the Spanish. At least the Spanish have done enough to secure a spot for the Olympic Games after failing to make the Gold Fleet at the previous Worlds in Denmark.