Encouraging soundings from Team Ireland ahead of London

 

SAILING:IRISH SAILING is on the right tack for an Olympic medal from London, according to Team Ireland, who say they will add at least one more boat to the three-boat Weymouth ticket in the second round of qualifications next month.

The Irish Sailing Association repeated the extent of its ambition again yesterday at a briefing in Dublin, unveiling a “vision” that “Irish sailing will be on the podium”. The association also showcased the three crews at the Jury’s hotel venue who, it says, can deliver the goods.

It’s big talk given Ireland has not had a single top-eight finish for 32 years. It has won only one Olympic sailing medal and that was in 1980 when David Wilkins and Jamie Wilkinson took silver at the boycotted Moscow Olympiad. More recent false dawns in Sydney and Athens have not discouraged talk of medals again in 2012.

Ireland’s Annalise Murphy will compete in the Laser Radial class, Peter O’Leary and David Burrows will sail in the Star keelboat and Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern are in the high-performance 49er dinghy.

Irish sailing is on a roll, according to team manager James O’Callaghan who believes the comparatively young team (only the Star keelboat has previous Olympic experience) can progress Irish sailing from Moscow in the London Games.

Take 22-year-old Annalise Murphy’s 2011 season as an example. In her last two world cup regattas that year she finished on 15 occasions in the top 10 and won 10 races. Her win rate at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta on the Olympic course last July was matched only by British sailing superstar Ben Ainslie.

Only inconsistent results prevented her from taking first place in both events.

Then in December in Perth, Murphy won four races, more than any other sailor in her fleet. Her average position, excluding discard, was seventh. If she had scored seventh in her two worst races she would have won the regatta by five points. Instead, a couple of bad results kept her sixth overall. But sixth in a fleet of such world-class competitors is a top result for Murphy and a personal best.

This season has started well for O’Leary and Burrows who were second overall (for the third time) at the prestigious Bacardi Cup in Miami last month. It moved them on from Dublin where they won a bronze medal on home waters at the class European championships.

The Cork-Dublin duo are banking on an extra turn of speed from a brand new P-Star keelboat they launched in Florida. And in working up the latest evolution of this 22-foot boat they have drafted help from German coach Mark Pickel who is also the designer and builder of the P-Star, a design that has caused a revolution in the International Star fleet. It could be a game-changer for the Irish crew.

There is no doubting the very high standard of results already coming from the team. Two medal-race performances and one just outside at the ISAF worlds in Perth are great achievements just months from the Olympic regatta.

Many nations would pay good money just to be in Ireland’s position right now. But behind these results there is concern over season-long inconsistencies that followed the team to Perth and it appears into 2012 too.

Except for two race blips in the Star and the Laser Radial where Irish boats counted two bad races apiece, Ireland would have been in the medals in Perth last December, which would have been a first for Irish sailing at an ISAF World Championships.

In an overall regatta context this means it’s not only about having brilliant races, it’s about avoiding bad ones too.

There are only nine regattas before the Olympic regatta and O’Callaghan is expecting six medal-race finishes and two medals as a sign that the team is on track to deliver in Weymouth.

None of this will be plain sailing. Last week Belfast’s James Espey took a step closer to his Olympic dream with a strong finish at the Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia Mapfre in the Bay of Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

The rarefied world of Olympic racing is high risk, so regardless of “vision” statements about future performances the only certainty is that anything can happen between now and Weymouth.