Trying to open up sailing to a wider audience

Olympic campaigner James Espey who is among the line-up of speakers at a dinghy sailing summit at the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire tomorrow. Photograph: David Branigan

Olympic campaigner James Espey who is among the line-up of speakers at a dinghy sailing summit at the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire tomorrow. Photograph: David Branigan


SAILING:The role and worth of elite racing and professional sailors are perennial hot topics in the broad spectrum of a sport that finds it’s broadest base amongst amateurs and daytime enthusiasts.

The “trickle-down” effect in terms of new and often affordable new technologies developed arenas such as America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race is well recognised though relevant mostly to the keenest and wealthiest big-boat owners.

But Olympic sailing is another pillar of the sport and following sustained development of the elite pathway from junior to international level, the trickle-down lessons from the London 2012 Olympics and all the international championships leading up to it are now coming on-stream.

A Dinghy Sailing Summit will be held tomorrow at the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire aimed at senior sailors interested in improving their skills. The basis for the day-long gathering is that with all the focus of elite racing squads aimed squarely at junior and youth participants, older sailors are missing out and getting rusty as a result.

Speaker line-up

The line-up of speakers is led by Ballyholme’s James Espey who represented Ireland in the Laser single-hander in the Olympic regatta at Weymouth last summer after resolutely campaigning outside the official Irish Sailing Association programme until he qualified for the main event with less than three months to go.

Espey will be joined by Noel Butler who started sailing as an adult and so missed the various junior sailing schemes. His approach to this new sport led to a Laser 2 world championship victory as well as eight national titles and currently sails a Fireball.

Graham Elmes will be the third speaker who will draw on his amateur sailing career across many different dinghy and one-design keelboat classes at home and internationally.

Meanwhile, a week later at the ISA Annual Conference at the Royal Marine Hotel, the High Performance team behind the Olympic sailing squad will be sharing their tips for improved performance at a free seminar for ISA members.

Physiotherapist Mark McCabe will deliver a “no-nonsense workshop” on strength and conditioning while team psychologist Kate Kirby will discuss how mental factors can influence performance. Olympian Matt McGovern will talk about the highs and lows of London 2012 and how it prepared him for his Rio 2016 campaign with Ryan Seaton in the 49er class.

Potential audience

“From our perspective, it’s about opening up to a wider audience,” ISA Performance Manager James O’Callaghan told The Irish Times. “The people in the academy and on the pathway are just a tiny fraction of our potential audience.”

This is part of the “trickle-down” for club level sailors he reckons and simple skills and tools can be used to improve sailing without having to be a high-performance athlete.

“What’s fascinating for me is that there’s a whole generation of people that when they were sailing dinghies at youth age, fitness wasn’t seen as important. Now those people are in their forties and fifties and are fully aware of the need for fitness in their sport. Culturally, that’s a really big change.”

O’Callaghan also hopes that junior pathway parents and sailors will attend to see what’s involved.

O’Callaghan also commented on recent commentary that the ISA is too pre-occupied with development of elite sport.

“Performance sailing is a ring-fenced fund from the Irish Sports Council that is focused on bringing people down the high-performance pathway. Not a single euro of membership subscriptions is spent on this programme.”

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