Sunday 19 November 2017

O'Leary calm and focused as all around him a mighty storm blows

SAILING likes its dramas kept on the water. Along the great, frayed coast of Dorset yesterday, Peter O'Leary conducted his Olympic business with the firm hand of a master helmsman.

His partnership with David Burrows has been trumpeted as Ireland's best chance of a sailing medal since David Wilkins and James Wilkinson took silver in Moscow 32 years ago and nothing they did yesterday served to corrupt that notion.

But the shambolic optics that followed left journalists startled as the Corkman walked past in a hoodie, wearing shades and staring at his feet. To the cry of gulls, he left what ought to have been one of his most pleasurable days sailing in Olympic waters like a man who'd found the day strangely joyless.

The Irish boat finished second and sixth in their two star races, ending the day in silver-medal position, although they have eight more races to contest plus a possible "medal race" too.

Back home, the sky may have been inky with allegations of illegal betting, but in Weymouth, all you could find were cotton-wool clouds and confidence. The performance of the Irish crew was remarkable, given the storm blowing around Mr O'Leary's ears yesterday.

Yet, those who know the Corkman were unsurprised. They regard him as a profoundly calm, self-sufficient type, well equipped to compartmentalise anything happening in his life.

Just now, he finds himself at the centre of illegal betting allegations that the IOC yesterday confirmed its ethics committee was investigating. Mr O'Leary's legal representatives rejected the complaint and said it was made "out of vengeance and spite".

So it was a strange day in Weymouth. On the water, Mr O'Leary looked majestic. On the quayside, troubled.

As he was chaperoned past media by sailing's high performance manager James O'Callaghan, Mr O'Leary ignored all entreaties to stop. Some months ago, he declared he had a single aim for 2012: "To do this thing right and stand on the box (Olympic podium) at the end."

Nicknamed 'Guns' for his ability to be first past the post, he finished 13th with Stephen Milne in the Star class in Beijing, the event in which he allegedly placed two bets on the British boat to win.

The bid for Olympic medals is made in increments. Mr O'Leary and Mr Burrows face two races every day for three days, a rest day, then four more races condensed into two days before the medal race, which is confined to the leading 10 boats.

Mr O'Leary and Mr Burrows re-affirmed their potential medal status by taking gold at the Olympic test event in Weymouth last month.

The O'Leary bloodlines are formidable. The red and white silks of his paternal grandparents, Archie (a former rugby international and respected yachtsman) and Violet, are well known in steeplechasing circles and have been a familiar sight on National Hunt's biggest days.

The family have had three winners at Cheltenham and watched Adrian Maguire ride the most famous resident of their stable, the Willie Mullins-trained Florida Pearl, to King George glory at Kempton. The O'Learys own a long-established Cork insurance brokerage, into which Peter is expected to go when his sailing ambitions are sated.

His father, Anthony, has won representative honours in rugby and is a successful yachtsman who skippered Ireland to victory in the Rolex Commodores Cup in 2010.

Peter's mother, Sally, is a daughter of Sir Robin Aisher OBE, a famous sailor and Olympian who won bronze at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. His partner is fellow Olympian Derval O'Rourke.

Irish Independent

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