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Mission Accomplished: Olympic 49er Sailors Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove Are Tokyo Bound

27th March 2021
Sean Waddilove (left) and Robert Dickson a stand out performance in Lanzarote has landed them Olympic berths in the 49er skiff
Sean Waddilove (left) and Robert Dickson aa stand out performance in Lanzarote has landed them Olympic berths in the 49er skiff Credit: Sailing Energy

Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove's mission for Tokyo 2021 was accomplished yesterday when they took the last Olympic berth in the men's skiff class but the way it was achieved has been revelatory not only to the 49er fleet itself but to the Irish sailing community too. 

Sheer hard work paid off in the Canary Islands as the Howth and Skerries pair sailed a solid series to win their Olympic dream at the last throw of the dice.

Now the place on the Enoshima startline is secured with such a standout performance, the tantalising question is what else might we expect from the Olympic debutantes this July?

On the podium - the Irish 49er medal race winners finish third overall and Tokyo Olympic qualification Photo: Sailing EnergyOn the podium - the Irish 49er medal race winners finish third overall and Tokyo Olympic qualification Photo: Sailing Energy

As Afloat reported yesterday, following qualification with a race to spare, the duo went on to win the double points medal race yesterday afternoon – the first one they had ever competed in – and secure the bronze medal at the Lanzarote International Regatta into the bargain. Success certainly tasted sweet standing on the podium in the Lanzarote sunshine.

Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove (green spinnaker) lead Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle on a downwind leg in Lanzarote this week Photo: Sailing EnergyRobert Dickson and Sean Waddilove (green spinnaker) lead Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle on a downwind leg in Lanzarote this week Photo: Sailing Energy

It might have been the last Olympic place available, as viewed in some quarters, but the way in which it was won represents far more as a new chapter opens for Irish skiff sailing in Ireland. And It's a chapter that holds out so much promise both for Tokyo and Paris 2024.

Many at home had expected Northern Ireland skiff ace Ryan Seaton would use his 16 years experience from London 2012 to Rio 2016 to easily qualify Ireland early for Tokyo but when that campaign stalled it left the door open for youth to triumph over experience and Dickson and Waddilove seized the opportunity.

Olympic bound - Sean Waddilove (left) and Robert Dickson take the Tokyo berth with a race to spare in Playa Blanca Photo: Sailing EnergyOlympic bound - Sean Waddilove (left) and Robert Dickson take the Tokyo berth with a race to spare in Playa Blanca Photo: Sailing Energy

Frankly, Irish Olympic sailing needed a short in the arm after so many disappointments this quadrennial and the manner in which Dickson and Waddilove put one of Ireland's main medal hopes to the sword has been quite the eye-opener. 

It is six years almost to the day that Dickson and Waddilove first set foot in a 49er and what a voyage of discovery it has been from absolute beginner to Tokyo Olympians at the first time of asking as Afloat's WM Nixon wrote here.

Aside from two UFD scores this week, the young team has been a revelation into the top tier of senior 49er fleets and are now clearly on top of their game, prompting interviewer John Emmet in Lanzarote yesterday to ask how far the modest pairing think they can go in Tokyo (in the video below).

The result is also a big relief for the fledgeling Irish 49er class that at one point had up to five campaigns bidding for Tokyo but each one falling away as key earlier qualification opportunities were missed in Aarhus 2018 and Auckland 2019.

What started out as something of a vertical learning curve for the 420 teen duo in the high powered skiff in Howth in March 2015 was rewarded just three years later with Under 23 World Championships success in 2018 (and an Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year Award). Dickson wrote about that achievement for Afloat here.

Early signs of success - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulates Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove after their Under 23 win in 2018 at Howth Yacht ClubEarly signs of success - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulates Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove after their Under 23 win in 2018 at Howth Yacht Club

But it was from this point on that they truly showed the depth of their ambitions making gold fleet at the first time of asking at the 2019 World Championships in Auckland.

Despite the havoc COVID-19 disruption brought to campaign plans, the pandemic, in fact, played into their hands as it gave valuable time to 'keep learning' as the qualification regatta was repeatedly cancelled to within five months of the Games itself. Dickson and Waddilove stuck to a religious training programme and the buds of Lanzarote success this week were well in evidence last season when they came out ahead of Seaton & Guilfoyle in a Kiel Week 49er test last September. It was the same again in Austria in October at the 2020 Europeans on Lake Attersee when Dickson and Waddilove finished on top in 18th place.

Congratulations from Howth, Skerries & Across Ireland

Dickson's own club at Howth Yacht Club and Waddilove's Skerries were celebrating the qualification news yesterday. Both have both been following the campaign intensely and especially this week's last chance event. It is clear from social media the duo have a strong following especially in north Dublin and are surrounded by supporters and sponsors who admire their progress born out of a strong work ethic.

Reaction from home and indeed across the world has been quick with so many offering their congratulations. Here's a selection of comments via social media: 

GBR Olympic sailor Saskia Tidey wrote: “Just buzzing for you! Well done lads xxx”.

Irish sailing Pro Maurice O'Connell: "TREMENDOUS".

Flying Fifteen class president Chris Doorly: “Brilliant, well done! Great watching the event as we are locked in!”

Royal St George Match Racing champion, John Sheehy: "Was tuned in all week. Phenomenal. Congratulations". 

Howth’s Richard Kissane: "Great result and well deserved!"

Royal Cork's Neil Kenefick: "Wonderful, Sail on". 

Gillian Guinness of Howth: "Well done boys, delighted for you both. Robert your grandfather Roy would be so so proud of you". 

Success in Lanzarote this week was born in the hard conditions of Dun Laoghaire's Coal Harbour says former coach Tytus Photo: Sailing EnergySuccess in Lanzarote this week was born in the hard conditions of Dun Laoghaire's Coal Harbour says former coach Tytus Konarzewski Photo: Sailing Energy

From Warsaw, the coach that took them to their under 23 gold medals in Marseilles, Tytus Konarzewski also sent his congratulations. He believes the duo can go all the way to the podium, if not in Tokyo, then certainly at Paris 2024.

“I remember when it was was really cold in Dun Laoghaire in winter 2017. We were changing sailing clothes on the street in the Coal Harbour. They never complained,  so, months later when it was windy and wavy in Marseille, they were very happy to race in any conditions and gave it all, right up to the end” 

“Success was born in hard conditions, it is why Irish sailors could be successful if they are not spoiled!

I love them, they are good guys and I wish them all the best, I’ll always cross my fingers for them”, Konarzewski told Afloat.

Irish Sailing's James O'Callaghan says "The whole team have all worked really hard preparing for the Tokyo Olympics and qualifying today is a really important step and a milestone for Rob and Sean. It’s a bittersweet feeling for Ryan and Seafra, as they had hoped to win the nomination, but without these two boats working as a team Ireland would have had no chance securing the last available Olympic place." 

Click to read more on 49er sailors Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove

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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

Tokyo 2021 Olympic Sailing

Olympic Sailing features a variety of craft, from dinghies and keelboats to windsurfing boards. The programme at Tokyo 2020 will include two events for both men and women, three for men only, two for women only and one for mixed crews:

Event Programme

RS:X - Windsurfer (Men/Women)
Laser - One Person Dinghy (Men)
Laser Radial - One Person Dinghy (Women)
Finn - One Person Dinghy (Heavyweight) (Men)
470 - Two Person Dinghy (Men/Women)
49er - Skiff (Men)
49er FX - Skiff (Women)
Nacra 17 Foiling - Mixed Multihull

The mixed Nacra 17 Foiling - Mixed Multihull and women-only 49er FX - Skiff, events were first staged at Rio 2016.

Each event consists of a series of races. Points in each race are awarded according to position: the winner gets one point, the second-placed finisher scores two, and so on. The final race is called the medal race, for which points are doubled. Following the medal race, the individual or crew with the fewest total points is declared the winner.

During races, boats navigate a course shaped like an enormous triangle, heading for the finish line after they contend with the wind from all three directions. They must pass marker buoys a certain number of times and in a predetermined order.

Sailing competitions at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are scheduled to take place from 27 July to 6 August at the Enoshima Yacht Harbour. 

Venues: Enoshima Yacht Harbor

No. of events: 10

Dates: 27 July – 6 August

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Dates

Following a one year postponement, sailing competitions at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are scheduled to take place from 23 July 2021 and run until the 8 August at the Enoshima Yacht Harbour. 

Venue: Enoshima Yacht Harbour

No. of events: 10

Dates: 23 July – 8 August 2021

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