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Where are they now?: David McHugh (Sailor)

Former Irish and European champion David McHugh has sailed against the best in the world including four-time Americas Cup winner Russell Coutts and team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, and he believes competing at the top level is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

He first learned to sail in 1985 at the Wicklow sailing club on a junior sailing course. His career developed when he became friendly with a very good Optimist sailor, Tom Fitzpatrick, who was looking to try double-handed sailing. The pair gave it a go and became successful very quickly.

They trialled for the Irish sailing development team in 1989 and began sailing together in 1990, winning their first national title in the Laser 2 class in 1991.

They subsequently won two more titles in the Laser 2 and finished first at the 1996 European Championships in Holland and second at the 1997 World Championships in Cork. They achieved success at domestic level too, winning three team racing national titles and three match racing titles along the way.

McHugh had always aspired to compete in the Olympic Games. His aim was to make it for Sydney 2000 in the 470 class, a boat he had been sailing since 1993 at Eurolymp level. While preparing he represented Ireland at two world championships and the 1995 pre-Olympics in Atlanta.

In 1998, McHugh and Fitzpatrick turned full-time and spent their time training and competing in Europe and Australia in preparation for the 2000 Olympics. However, despite achieving a world ranking of 20th, they failed to reach the Irish Sailing Federation's qualification standard and were not selected a few months before Sydney.

"Not going was one of the toughest things I have ever gone through in my life, after putting so much time and effort into it. It took a long time to get over it. I practically stopped sailing for two years. I was a little disillusioned with the sport."

When McHugh returned to sailing, he went down the more professional route, sailing competitively on the RC44 World Tour, a combined match racing and fleet racing circuit which is participated in by most of the Americas Cup teams. And for approximately seven weeks of the year he still sails on the tour.

He is also a director of Line Up Sports Entertainment, specialising in sports marketing and athlete representation, coupled with strategic marketing and sponsorship consultancy.

Sunday Indo Sport