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Tough Tokyo Competition for Ireland's Dickson & Waddilove to Come as Burling & Tuke Start as 49er Favourites

21st July 2021
The young Irish crew of Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove earned the final spot for Tokyo competing at the Lanzarote International Regatta in March, winning their first-ever Medal Race at the event and seizing a bronze medal ahead of a world-class fleet
The young Irish crew of Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove earned the final spot for Tokyo competing at the Lanzarote International Regatta in March, winning their first-ever Medal Race at the event and seizing a bronze medal ahead of a world-class fleet

Since winning Olympic gold in the Men’s Skiff – 49er at Rio 2016 five years ago, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) have packed a whole lifetime of sailing achievements into their busy careers.

In 2017 Burling steered Emirates Team New Zealand’s foiling catamaran to victory at the America’s Cup in Bermuda, with Tuke further forward running the flight control for his best mate. A year later they were pitched against each other on rival boats in their first round-the-world adventure. Coming into the finish of the final leg of that year-long marathon called the Volvo Ocean Race, Burling or Tuke looked set to emerge as first-time winners of the race, before being pipped by the other boat, the Chinese, in a three-way, last-gasp battle for victory.

Earlier this year Burling and Tuke were again right at the core of New Zealand’s successful defence of the America’s Cup. This was meant to have happened after the Tokyo 2020 Games, but with the year’s postponement, the Kiwis had to hop straight off their multimillion-dollar foiling AC75 spaceship and reacquaint themselves with the somewhat more affordable, simpler pleasures of 49er racing.

New Zealand's Burling and Tuke start as 49er favourites in TokyoNew Zealand's Burling and Tuke start as 49er favourites in Tokyo

Despite the distractions of the Volvo Ocean Race, two America’s Cup campaigns, and more recently the SailGP circuit, the six-time World Champions still start as favourites for 49er gold in Tokyo.

Among the Tokyo line-up is Ireland’s debutantes Sean Waddilove and Rob Dickson who probably wouldn’t have made it to Tokyo if it had taken place in 2020, but this young team made the most of winter training in southern Europe to really show that they mean business. The young Irish crew earned the final spot for Tokyo competing at the Lanzarote International Regatta in March, winning their first-ever Medal Race at the event and seizing a bronze medal ahead of a world-class fleet. 

Among the challengers to the Kiwi crown are the bronze medallists from Rio 2016, Erik Heil and Tommy Ploessel (GER) who always turn it on for the big occasion. Despite taking time out from their campaign, they scored second at the 2019 Worlds and third at the 2020 Worlds. Now in their early 30s, Heil and Ploessel feel ready for another life-defining performance in Tokyo.

"We want to win a medal again," said Heil, "preferably in an even more beautiful colour than last time."

Medical student Heil and mechanical engineering graduate Ploessel ran the Kiwis close for the 2019 world title in Auckland. "We have come closer to them, closer than ever before," Heil remarked at the time.

In with a shout of a medal at the end of Rio 2016 was Great Britain's Dylan Fletcher who, crewed by Alain Sign, ended up sixth overall. Fletcher has since teamed up with Stu Bithell, Olympic silver medallist in the 470 at London 2012. Fletcher is focused, sometimes spiky, while Bithell appears to be the entertainer but is far more than that. From being rivals they have become good mates and have strung together some good results over the past four years, including victory at the 2017 World and European Championships.

However, in 2017 Burling and Tuke were absent from the 49er as they raced their way around the Volvo Ocean Race world. Fletcher and Bithell haven’t beaten the Kiwis at a World Championship, so do they have the self-belief to take away the Olympic crown from their feted rivals?

Bithell admits the duo are "super tough competition".

"We’re up against perhaps the most successful sailing team in the world – they are formidable together," he expressed. "I like to put a positive spin on things and say it creates an opportunity for us to go out and beat the best team in the world."

Spain’s Diego Botin and Iago Marra have spent the last few years chipping away at the front of the 49er fleet, gradually improving their scores season by season. The Spanish team were fourth at the 2019 Worlds and runners-up in 2020 to their regular training partners Burling and Tuke, who they know probably better than anyone in the Olympic fleet.

The Beijing 2008 Olympic Champion Jonas Warrer is back representing Denmark, crewed by Jakob Precht Jensen. In 2008, even Warrer would admit he used more than his fair share of fortune to clinch gold in the most extraordinary and controversial of circumstances. Contrary to predictions of a windless Beijing, the 49er Medal Race that year proved extremely breezy and enormously wavy, and everyone was unprepared and underweight for those heinous conditions.

"I was sailing before the start with my crew Martin Kirketerp," Warrer recalls. "We broke the mast half a minute after hoisting the spinnaker. We thought our regatta was over but we rushed ashore and the Croatians lent us their boat for the race." There’s much more to that incredible story, but the story now is can the 42-year-old repeat gold, 13 years on?

Warrer knows what it’s like to finish first, and he knows how it feels to finish fourth, his position at Rio 2016. "I had a break from sailing after Rio, but I think my idea was to do another Olympics. I know what it’s like to be in the medals and to be out of the medals. Winning a medal is more fun."

Warrer’s crew Jensen is hoping the spirit of 2008 returns to carry them to victory.

"Leading the regatta, breaking a mast and winning a medal, let’s do that again," jokes Jensen about his helmsman’s streak of Beijing luck. "Of course we want to come away from Tokyo with a medal and if it’s made of gold, even better."

Sime Fantela became the first sailor to win a sailing gold medal for Croatia in the 470 class five years ago in Rio. Teaming up with his brother Mihovil, Sime made a rapid and successful switch to the 49er. The brothers won the 2018 World Championship after just 18 months in this demanding class. They’re probably an outside bet for the 49er podium, but Sime is a wily competitor who’s unlikely to be intimidated by the occasion.

Another couple of brothers to watch out for, particularly if the breeze and the big waves kick in, are first-time Olympians Will and Sam Phillips racing for Australia. Following in the wake of the London 2012 gold medallists and Rio 2016 silver medallists, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, the Aussie siblings have big footloops to fill, but a recent big wave training session on the Queensland coast with Burling and Tuke should stand them in good stead for the Pacific swell of Enoshima.

Others to watch include Austria’s Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl, who have a very good record on Olympic waters with the high point being a silver medal at the Hempel World Cup Series Enoshima two years ago. They were bronze medallists at the 2017 Worlds, with sixth in 2019 and fourth in 2020, very consistent scores that make the Austrians a real threat for the podium.

The fast-improving Dutch team of Bart Lambriex and Pim van Vugt are starting to look like the real deal, regularly finishing in the top six of major events.

The 49er fleet features 19-world class teams. They will sail an Opening Series of 12 races, with the first three races scheduled for Tuesday 27 July on the Enoshima course, starting at 1445 JST. Their Medal Race on Monday 2 August will bring their competition to a close.

A full list of competitors is available here.

-Andy Rice

Afloat.ie Team

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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

Tokyo 2020 Irish Olympic Sailing Team

ANNALISE MURPHY, Laser Radial

Age 31. From Rathfarnham, Dublin.

Club: National Yacht Club

Full-time sailor

Silver medallist at the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio (Laser Radial class). Competed in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017/2018. Represented Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics. Laser Radial European Champion in 2013.

ROBERT DICKSON, 49er (sails with Seán Waddilove)

Winner, U23 49er World Championships, September 2018, and 2018 Volvo/Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year

DOB: 6 March 1998, from Sutton, Co. Dublin. Age 23

Club: Howth Yacht Club

Currently studying: Sports Science and Health in DCU with a Sports Scholarship.

SEÁN WADDILOVE, 49er (sails with Robert Dickson)

Winner, U23 49er World Championships, September 2018, and recently awarded 2018 Volvo Afloat/Irish Sailor of the Year

DOB: 19 June 1997. From Skerries, Dublin

Age 24

Club: Skerries Sailing Club and Howth Yacht Club

Currently studying International Business and Languages and awarded sports scholarship at TU (Technology University)

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