Four Irish women will be on the start line of the first race of 2020 Laser Radial World Championships this Sunday.
As Afloat previously reported, this is the first of three Irish trial regattas for the Olympic place and each sailor will be seeking to carry the minimum number of points into the next round at Palma in March. The final event is in Hyeres, France in April. The selection regattas were changed late last year by mutual agreement, dropping the World Cup in Genoa in favour of the World Championship in Melbourne.
In part of the buid up to Sunday's first races, the girls were joined at their Melbourne training camp by local resident and Irish athletics great Sonia O’Sullivan who reported on the trials in her weekly Irish Times column.
Highest ranked (39th) is Aoife Hopkins (21) of Howth Yacht Club who has campaigned consistently over the last two years, and will be targeting a second successive World Championship gold fleet result to maintain her selection hopes. Hopkins finished 25th in last month’s Sail Melbourne against quality opposition.
Lough Derg Yacht Club’s Aisling Keller (23), ranked 63rd, finished 3 places behind Hopkins in Melbourne, but two places ahead at last year’s Worlds, qualifying the country in the process. These pair were locked in a battle for the Olympic berth, but the return of Annalise Murphy to the fray has created a new challenge where they will need to look beyond their own private battle.
2016 Rio silver medallist Murphy (30), has a lowly ranking of 136th due to her late return to the class. The National Yacht Club sailor has directed her talent elsewhere since her medal performance, crewing in the Volvo Ocean Race and attempting to develop a 49erfx challenge. She took up where she left off, in battle with Rio Gold Medallist Marit Bouwmeester (NED) for honours in Sail Melbourne, once again taking the runner-up spot.
Eve McMahon (15), Howth Yacht Club, is the current under 17 Laser Class World Champion. Ranked 144th in the world, she has displayed her considerable potential by finishing 46th in Sail Melbourne and poses an interesting question as to whether her upward trajectory can put her in the mix for selection.
The weather will play a significant part in determining the outcome of this first trial. Sail Melbourne, with the exception of the final race, was a windy regatta, playing to Murphy’s strength. The forecast for the first three days of the World Championship, predicts mixed strengths, but perhaps closer to 10 knots than 15 knots.
First race reports on Afloat are expected on Sunday morning, Irish time.
All three medallists from the Rio Olympics will take to the water off Sandringham Yacht Club on Sunday. They head a star-studded field of 106 competitors from 40 countries, many of whom will be trying to qualify as their country's representative at Tokyo 2020.
Leading the charge will be Marit Bouwmeester from the Netherlands, the 2016 gold and 2012 silver medallist at the Olympics and a six-times world champion in the event. Marit has been training in Melbourne since December and won the Australian Championship in early January. Although she has already been selected for the Olympics by the Dutch Federation, she will still have a battle on her hands during the Worlds from countrywomen Mirthe Akkerman, Maxim Jonker and Daphne van der Vaart, who all pushed her during the Australian Championship.
Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) is ranked number one in the world at present and is the defending world champion, having also won the title in 2015. She was 13th at the London Olympics and won the bronze medal in Rio.
Annalise Murphy (IRL) was part of an epic Laser Radial medal race at the London Olympics, where she missed out on the bronze by the barest of margins. She made up for that at Rio, taking silver behind Marit Bouwmeester.
Another former world champion, Alison Young of Great Britain, is currently ranked second in the world while Emma Plasschart of Belgium is ranked third.
Among those competing for a place at the Olympics are two Finn sailors, Tuula Tenkinen and Monika Mikkola. Ranked ninth and 14th respectively, they present a welcome challenge to the Finn selectors.
Even more intense will be the rivalry for Kim and Lin Pletikos of Slovenia, who are not only competing for an Olympic spot, but for bragging rights around the family dinner table.
The home crowd is also hoping to see a sailor selected for Tokyo.
There are 19 Australians in the field for the Worlds. Assuming there are no upsets, either Thomson or Stransky will need to finish in the top 10 to secure a seat on the plane to Tokyo