Thursday 19 April 2018

Olympics: Ireland's squad building nicely for Weymouth

WM Nixon

With the Olympic torch burning its way through Ireland in 10 days' time and the countdown to London 2012 well under way, the Irish squad for the sailing events in Weymouth has little enough time to adjust to its greatly increased size, with two new crews coming on board through last ditch qualifications.

The lonely selection voyage of Laser sailor James Espey of Ballyholme has finally reached a successful conclusion, and so too has the 470 campaign of Ger Owens of Dun Laoghaire and Scott Flanigan of Malahide.

Malahide has always punched above its weight in the Olympic sailing stakes and Flanigan carries the MYC flag along with Star class sailor David Burrows, while Ballyholme is also well in, as James Espey joins clubmates Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, who are already on board as Ireland's 49er crew.

For the latest additions, the turnaround from battling for selection to training for representation means that, as ISA team manager James O'Callaghan has put it, "there's work to be done between now and Weymouth."

But, in fact, O'Callaghan's remark was primarily prompted by the somewhat erratic showing by the already-qualified Annalise Murphy in the recent Women's Laser Radial Worlds in Germany.

The weather was the most erratic feature of all, yet when the breeze was good Murphy was in top form, taking two wins and two seconds in the 133-boat fleet.

But she also had a major upset with a collision and the final day saw her logging a 33rd and 55th to drop nine places to 25th in fleet, not the sort of placing she's been used to in recent years.

With a smaller fleet and (so they tell us) steadier breezes anticipated at Weymouth, she's on track for a good showing -- as are the Star class duo of Peter O'Leary and Burrows, who wound up fourth overall in the recent World Championships, very much in the frame.

There'll be a special link to sailing when the Olympic torch arrives at Olympic Council of Ireland HQ in Howth on June 6, as Howth House, the OCI base, is the former home of the Boyd family of sailing folk, where Herbert Boyd designed the still-extant Howth Seventeen class.

The youthful Boyd utilised the spacious floor of the drawing room (where else?) to finalise the lines of his boat designs and it was there in 1897 that he created the Howth Seventeen One designs, which still look today exactly as he envisaged them 115 years ago.

Only a year earlier, the revival of the Olympics in their modern form had been achieved by Pierre de Coubertin. It's doubtful if Boyd ever had Olympic ambitions for his rugged little boats. But they are truly Olympian in their dogged persistence allied to timeless style with 115 years of solid sport, so there's no better place for the Olympic torch in Ireland.

However, that's in ten days' time. Right now Howth is jumping with the 127-strong fleet battling it out in the three-day BMW Cruiser-Racer Nationals and skippers of the calibre of current Sailor of the Year George Kenefick of Crosshaven at the helm of his Quarter Tonner 'Tiger of Currabinny' (now there's a name to conjure with) are revelling in glorious early-summer weather.

Out in the Atlantic, however, the chances of mid-ocean calms are slowing arrival time hopes for the Volvo fleet (back to full strength) racing from Miami to Lisbon, with Franck Cammas and Damian Foxall and team on Groupama losing their lead to Iker Martinez on Telefonica.

The Atlantic weather is all over the place and nerves will be well frayed before they get to Portugal.

Irish Independent

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