A full rehearsal of next year’s Paris Olympic Sailing regatta gets under way at Marseille Marina this weekend in what is certain to be an indicator event, both of logistics and prospects for the potential Irish team.
Yet this full-scale regatta won’t be the season highlight, as the combined Sailing World Championships, a gathering that only occurs once every four years, is just around the corner for the 10 Olympic disciplines on Sailing.
The Allianz regatta at The Hague, the Netherlands, is the first and biggest of the national qualifying events for Paris 2024 and it gets under way in five weeks’ time.
That means the Marseilles test event is the final opportunity to tease out any remaining issues before the “peak regatta” in August.
Competing will be Finn Lynch (National Yacht Club) who competed at the Rio Olympics and is currently ranked number five in the world for the ILCA7 men’s single-handed event.
Multiple Gold medallist at youth level, Eve McMahon (Howth Yacht Club), will continue building her experience in the senior fleet for the ILCA6 women’s single-handed event.
Tokyo 2020 Olympians Robert Dickson (Howth YC) and Seán Waddilove (Skerries Sailing Club) return to full competition after early-season illness setbacks in the 49er men’s skiff event.
Of the three boats lining up next week in France, just one isn’t an Olympic veteran and, coming hot on the heels of a stellar youth campaign that ended last summer with a hat-trick of Gold medals, McMahon is still in the infancy of her senior level programme.
Not unlike Annalise Murphy 12 years ago in the lead-up to London 2012, where she qualified in Perth the previous year at the combined worlds and then went on to defy expectations by leading her Laser Radial class until the final medal race, McMahon could be at risk of placing similar expectations on her own shoulders.
“All athletes have high expectations of themselves and Eve is no different in that regard,” commented James O’Callaghan, performance director with Irish Sailing. “She needs to stay focused on where she is in her career.”
O’Callaghan points to the great coaching relationship between Murphy and McMahon, but disagrees that the Howth sailor is following the National Yacht Club Olympic silver medallist exactly.
“It’s a natural comparison to make but they’re both very individual athletes in their own regard,” he said. “Her [McMahon’s] progress is going to be marked by individual race results rather than overall regatta standings.”
Later on, the Hague event will also see Séafra Guilfoyle with Johnny Durcan (Royal Cork Yacht Club) in competition for the 49er men’s skiff event, while Ewan McMahon, one of three siblings from the Howth sailing family, will also contest the ILCA7 men’s single-handed event.
As far as pressure to secure Irish berths for Paris 2024 goes, August marks the start of a process and an opportunity to clear a hurdle.
“It’s definitely a ‘nice to have’ to qualify in The Hague, and that applies to all the athletes, but there will still be two more opportunities to follow over the coming year,” said O’Callaghan. “There’s definitely excitement in the group and we feel that we’re one of the most professional small nations here.”
The squad has a mobile base set up in Marseilles with a duplicate in The Hague, both based on their performance HQ in Dún Laoghaire. Gym, workshop and debriefing space are all standard for the team at major events, with the facility provided by the Irish Sailing Foundation, with support from Sport Ireland.