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49erFX Field is Wide Open at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition

22nd July 2021
Great Britain’s Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey who competed at Rio 2016 as rivals in separate boats are eyeing gold in Tokyo
Great Britain’s Charlotte Dobson and Dun Laoghaire's Saskia Tidey who competed at Rio 2016 as rivals in separate boats are eyeing gold in Tokyo

The 49erFX made its first Olympic appearance at Rio five years ago, when the battle for gold and silver remained in the balance until the final stages of the Medal Race.

The gold and silver medallists from Rio 2016 - respectively Brazil’s Martine Grael & Kahena Kunze and New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech - will again be in contention for the podium. They’re not the stand-out favourites, however. No one is. This field appears to be wide open to a number of contenders.

This includes Dun Laoghaire Harbour's Saskia Tidey from the Royal Irish Yacht Club who has every right to expect a medal from Tokyo as she represents Team GB with Charlotte Dobson.

Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barcelo sailed a really smart series to win the 2020 World Championship in Australia. Echegoyen knows how to win at the Olympics, having taken gold as helm of the Spanish entry in the women’s match racing event at London 2012. She also went to Rio 2016 as the reigning 49erFX World Champion, but just missed out on the Olympic podium, finishing in the dreaded fourth place.

Arguably the most consistent performers over the past five years since Rio are the ever-smiling Dutch duo of Annemiek Bekkering & Annette Duetz, who won back to back World Championships in 2018 and 2019.

Duetz recalls when they first came across each other as keen youth sailors in the 29er skiff, the junior go-kart version of the bigger 49erFX, "There was this superstar, we met at training sessions, we sailed a few times together, but not knowing we would one day sail together all the time!"

Bekkering can’t speak highly enough of her tall crew, "Annette, she can do anything. She’s amazing. We really like the windy conditions, we still keep on racing, pushing through the big waves. It doesn’t matter what happens, Annette is always the same emotions, - keep going, keep fighting - that’s a really good strength to have in the boat."

Duetz returns the compliment, "You’re really on it, if there are any gains to be made on the race course, you find them!"

The team needed all of their composure to bounce back from a difficult start to their qualification trials after being outsailed by their Dutch rivals, Odile van Aanholt and Marieke Jongens, at a really light and fluky Hempel World Cup Genoa regatta in early 2019.

Bekkering and Duetz pretty much needed to win the next qualifying event, the 49erFX European Championships in Weymouth a month later. When the pressure was on, they executed the plan and won the event and with it, selection for Tokyo 2020.

They will be leaning on that experience when they start racing at their second Games together. "There was a lot of pressure on us to sail those European Championships well, and we did," says Bekkering, looking to do much better than their seventh in Rio five years ago.

"It was a good experience to compete at the Games, but we struggled with the whole Olympics. In some ways it was not the nicest Games, didn’t enjoy it as much as we hoped, but it was super useful to do Rio. We’re super keen to do a great event this time and make the most of it, to get the best out of ourselves."

Of course, every Olympic athlete believes that competing at the Games is a dream come true, but no team will appreciate that feeling of arriving at the venue and getting that buzz than the German 49erFX crew. Tina Lutz and Susann Beucke have dreamt of this moment for most of their lives, and have been sailing together as a team since 2007. After narrowly missing out on selection for London 2012 and Rio 2016, when they finally earned selection for Tokyo 2020 it was a huge release of emotions for the two friends. It happened at the European Championships in Austria, one of the few events that actually managed to take place in late 2020. The German team found they had boat speed to burn, and if they can carry that speed edge from the smooth fresh waters of Lake Attersee to the salty swell of Enoshima, then they will be right up there in the fight for gold. It was Lutz and Beucke’s first major regatta win having finished fifth and ninth in the two most recent World Championships.

A few short years ago, Stephanie Roble was an incredible match racer in keelboats but when she stepped aboard the 49erFX she discovered that it was a much more wobbly platform than she was used to. Hundreds of capsizes and nosedives later, Roble and her crew Maggie Shea have emerged stronger from the all the bruises and moulded themselves into serious skiff contenders who seem to be able to come out on top in marginal situations. They had a battle on their hands to beat USA rivals Paris Henken and 2008 Radial Olympic Champion Anna Tobias (née Tunnicliffe), but Roble and Shea passed the test with flying colours, taking bronze at the 2020 World Championships.

The crew that finished just ahead of the Americans at those Worlds in Geelong is Great Britain’s Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey who competed at Rio 2016 as rivals in separate boats. Dobson, crewed by Sophie Ainsworth, finished eighth in Rio while Tidey, sailing for Ireland with Andrea Brewster, were 12th. Born to an Irish mother and English father, Tidey took a lot of heat from some Irish quarters for switching flags to Great Britain ("the hardest and probably one of the most controversial things I’ll ever do in my life"), but as a sailing partnership Dobson and Tidey worked almost straight away. They have always been strong in the breeze, Tidey standing 1.88m tall helps, but they’ve worked hard over the past two years to iron out any weaknesses at the lighter end of the wind spectrum. Now Dobson and Tidey look like the full package and have every right to expect a medal from Tokyo.

The Scandinavian nations have a strong history in the 49erFX and Denmark, Sweden and Norway are all ones to watch. Ida Marie Nielsen and Marie Olsen (DEN) have been at or near to the top end of the FX fleet since competition in the women’s skiff began back in 2013 when they won the first European Championship. A third place at the 2019 World Championship is the high point of more recent years for this tight-knit crew.

The daughter of five-time Olympic medallist Torben Grael, can Martine Grael along with Kahena Kunze repeat their gold from Rio 2016? The Brazilians continue to reach the podium on a regular basis, most recently at two winter regattas in Lanzarote. Grael and Kunze seem to thrive on the big occasion, and they won on Olympic waters at the Test Event two years ago.

Having been beaten by the Brazilians by the tightest of margins five years ago at Rio 2016, perhaps this time it will be the Kiwis’ opportunity to turn the tables on their long-term rivals. Alex Maloney and Molly Meech have been sailing together now for nine years, experience which should count on their favour at such a unique event. "I think as a team we can feel pretty confident that we’re in good shape," says Maloney. "It will be a case of who executes on the day."

The fact that the Games is going ahead at all is something to celebrate, says Meech. "I think that with everything that has been happening over the last year and coming to an Olympics that was postponed, it feels quite special," she says. "It feels quite different to Rio. You were racing and seeing your competitors quite a lot in the build-up to Rio. This feels quite fresh. It’s exciting.

"It's also really cool to finally be back in Japan. Getting the bus across the bridge [to the yacht club] the other day actually felt like coming back to somewhere really familiar."

Racing in the Women’s Skiff – 49erFX starts on Tuesday 27 July. The 21-boat fleet will start the first of 12 fleet races on the Enoshima course area at 1200 JST. They will finish racing on Monday 2 August with their Medal Race.

A full list of competitors is available here.

-Andy Rice

Published in Tokyo 2020
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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