Shape of Ireland Sailing’s squad for Tokyo likely to come down to the wire
The vagaries of the nation selection process means several twists could yet see further Irish qualification
Annalise Murphy: she would carry the added expectation of having to better or equal her result from Rio. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
With less than six months remaining to the Tokyo Olympics, the shape of Ireland Sailing’s squad is likely to come down to the wire over the coming 12 weeks. Much is at stake as the intensity of preparation for the games picks up several gears.
As of this week only the women’s single-handed event in the Radial dinghy will have an Irish sailor following national qualification last July in Japan.
Back then it was a two-way shootout between Howth’s Aoife Hopkins and Lough Derg’s Aisling Keller. However, in the autumn the mix intensified with the return to the class of Rio 2016 silver medallist Annalise Murphy and the rising star of the youth scene Eve McMahon from Howth.
Would weight of experience and a proven track record carry Murphy back into the fray after a 3½-year absence to race around the world and dabble in the 49erFX skiff class?
The Sail Melbourne Regatta at the start of the year answered that question when Murphy was second overall to the Netherland’s Marit Boumeester, with the other Irish sailors well down the pack.
The Irish trials to decide the representation in Tokyo begin in Australia in February with the World Championships, followed by the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma, Mallorca, in March, and a concluding event at Hyeres, France, in April.
Although Murphy could yet be seen to be the natural candidate given her form and history, she will also carry the added expectation of having to better or equal her result from Rio, a task she has already acknowledged as unfinished business.
A one-boat squad at Tokyo would be a big decline for Irish Sailing when compared to regular attendances at recent Olympics of four disciplines. However, the relative youth of the current lineup and strength of the pathway athletes would partly explain that outcome.
Yet there are still two other classes in deciding if Ireland will have other boats racing on Enoshima Bay, south of Tokyo.
Neither the Men’s 49er skiff event or the Laser Standard produced qualification for Ireland at the penultimate round despite some strong candidates and performances.
Unlike the Radial women who will now concentrate on being the best Irish sailor, there isn’t time for a selection trials for the other events and the final qualification opportunity takes place in mid-April at the World Cup of Sailing event in Genoa. “You don’t want two or more Irish boats racing against each [for selection] to the detriment of the nation,” said James O’Callaghan, Irish Sailing’s performance director.
“Having trials any earlier than the Olympic year doesn’t allow for emerging talent to come to the fore and select the ‘form’ sailor.”
Two nation places are available representing “sudden death” for any Tokyo dreams if Ireland is not successful here. And there is a similar prospect for the 49er skiffs, except just one place will be decided in Italy.
However, the vagaries of the nation selection process means several twists could yet see Irish qualification. However, this might not be known until a month before the Olympic regatta begins.