London Olympians get set for road to Rio


SAILING:Although several hundred hardier sailors continue a year round season almost every weekend throughout the winter, the post-Olympic respite for Ireland’s elite competitors is about to end.

With the Rio Games beckoning, maintaining momentum or in some cases, creating it, has become the top priority. A completely different venue to Weymouth plus a revised line-up of equipment and disciplines means a very different profile for the shape of the sailing squad.

Of the existing squad, Annalise Murphy stands out as arguably Ireland’s best known sailor. Her opening four races of the London Olympic regatta at Weymouth grabbed headlines and clearly showed her form was capable of delivering the goods. But even in defeat, when a near-certain prospect of a medal vanished, her tearful but determined declaration for Rio 2016 earned her hero status to her followers.

The Rathfarnham sailor returns to the pre-Olympic circuit as a veteran and wiser for her experiences.

“It will really be a continuation of where she left off after London,” said ISA performance manager James O’Callaghan.

“Annalise is still very young and is on an upwards learning curve. Her task for London was to improve her consistency across all wind ranges, which she did, and had an average placing of fourth at the Olympics.”

Other London Olympians embarking on the road to Rio include Bangor’s James Espey, who campaigned independently for London 2012 and secured a place in the Laser event. He is already in Florida preparing for the first event in the ISAF World Cup series that begins in Miami in five weeks’ time.

Espey won’t be alone in the Laser class and for company and rivalry for the single place in Rio he will have Philip Doran, who carries two world championship titles from his junior career into the senior ranks.

The first event, indicator of form, is at Miami, though the Laser Europeans in Dún Laoghaire next August are the highlight of the year as far as the single-handers, both male and female, are concerned.

Later in the series, fellow Belast Lough sailors Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern will restart their 49er skiff campaign following their debut in Weymouth. Like Murphy, their goal was to get an introduction to the Olympics but the pair secured an early place in the Irish team when they qualified a year ago in Perth at the World Championships. The duo came close to winning a place in the medal race final in Weymouth but had to settle for reaching their goal of competing at the games.

Rumours continue to circulate that in an effort to deliver events that have seen success for their athletes in the past, the Brazilian Olympic committee will have the Star keelboat reintroduced to the Rio Olympiad. Torben Grael and more recently Robert Scheidt have delivered almost a dozen Olympic medals between them for Brazil.

Such a move could yet see Peter O’Leary start afresh with a new campaign that might allow him to put the controversy of his bet in the 2008 Games behind him.

Meanwhile, another campaign that is expected to begin in the women’s 49FX skiff event will see former rivals of Murphy’s join forces for this new event. Saskia Tidey will team up with Tiffany Brien early next summer in their bid to gain a place in the official squad and a place at the Rio games.

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