Saturday 18 November 2017

Sailing: O'Leary still Star 2012 hope despite goal-post shift

WM Nixon

Typical, isn't it? Just as soon as Ireland gets a solid medal hope in an Olympic class, the powers that be move the goal posts.

The Olympic decision-makers, and the International Sailing Federation, have decided in their wisdom that the boat type in question, in which our hero has already won gold in a pre-Olympic event, will cease to be an Olympic class.

Different types of sailors shine especially well in different types of boats, and Cork's Peter O'Leary has been a rising talent in the Olympic Star class. It's an eccentric and demanding two-man machine, not for the faint-hearted. But O'Leary has revelled in this peculiar keelboat's unruly disposition, and in August at the Go For Gold Olympic Regatta at Portland, the English venue for the 2012 Olympics, he took the gold, beating a who's who of global talent.

So, although the number of Star class boats in Ireland could be counted on the fingers of one hand, we became a nation of Star nerds. And this week, as boat nerds do, we jumped to all sorts of paranoid conclusions on hearing that the Star will get the chop, to be replaced by the Tornado Catamaran.

But hold hard, shipmates. In our righteous indignation, we initially failed to note that the ISAF World Conference in Athens may have dropped the Star, but it's not going to happen until after the 2012 Olympics.

So, our hero is going to be in on the last battle of the titans, the final global hurrah for a vintage boat which has hung in on the Olympic rack thanks to a strong worldwide class organisation and a level of political cunning which would put the Borgias to shame.

There has, however, been one major decision at the ISAF conference with which we'll all agree. Tom Slingsby is an Australian sailor who revelled in the rugged sailing at Howth for this year's Etchells 22 Worlds. He was a key crewman for John Bertrand of Melbourne, but he wasn't able to be present at the convivial awards dinner at which Bertrand was awarded the world title, a trophy which the America's Cup winner had been chasing for many years.

The reason Tom Slingsby couldn't be present at the well-earned celebrations was because he'd had to zap off immediately to England for the Laser Worlds, racing in an enormous fleet against an utterly international line-up of ace helmsmen in particularly demanding conditions.

Despite having just completed a gruelling campaign with Bertrand, Slingsby's zest for sailing was unabated, and he won the Laser Worlds in convincing style, making for an extraordinary three weeks of racing in two boats of very different type. His achievement was noted, and this week in Athens, the ISAF gathering acclaimed Tom Slingsby as World Sailor of the Year 2010. No better man.

New boat types are top of the agenda down Cork way this weekend, with the Irish Team Racing Championship at Schull providing the debut for the locally built, David Harte-inspired TR 3.6 dinghy, developed with team racing and communal use in mind.

ICRA has a busy time ahead of them with commodore Barry Rose faced with the delicate matter of making the final decision on a boat or boats of the year.

Irish Independent

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