A row has broken out over the choice of the Irish representative for the Star class event at the 2008 Olympic Games in China. Only a couple of weeks ago Max Treacy and Anthony Shanks qualified Ireland for the Qingdao Games in August.
'The greatest moment of our sporting careers…….’ said Max Treacy shortly after qualifying in Miami.
Treacy and Shanks have run an eight-year campaign, are the top ranked Irish boat and made the cut at the World Championships where they finished top Irish boat and qualified Ireland. They also claimed to be first by an indisputable margin in the 'ISA nominated events' series, one of the factors upon which Olympic nomination is based. But despite all the hard work, the Royal Cork team of Peter O’Leary and his crew Stephen Milne, from Ballyholme, were chosen unanimously by the Irish Sailing Association for the Star Olympic berth.
O’Leary and Milne, have competed in just four events in the Star, but won a race in Miami and but for a broken mast would have counted three top five results and finished in the top ten. This last minute charge obviously impressed the selectors, who went with the new on-form team, despite their short time in the class. Treacy and Shanks were obviously not happy with this sudden change of fortune and issued this statement: Without reflecting on any other sailors, Anthony and I won outright on the water, we alone qualified the country, we are the highest placed Irish Star sailors in the World Rankings, we won the nominated events by an indisputable margin, we were 4th in the Grade 1 Spring Europeans last year against virtually all of the current nominated countries for the 2008 Olympics, we are the only Irish sailing team this year across all classes to have attained the status of 'World Class Athletes' with the Irish Sports Council.
'This is a very controversial decision by the ISA and we are going to appeal it because we truly believe that our record stands for itself. We are still in shock and cannot believe that the ISA could make this decision.
The Olympic Steering Committee chairman Colm Barrington, said in an ISA statement: The three crews in contention for the place demonstrated enormous skill and great determination in their campaigns. While it is very disappointing for the two crews who miss out, the OSG unanimously selected O'Leary & Milne. They have demonstrated that they have the best chance of success in the Olympic regatta in 2008.
The ISA’s High Performance director, James O’Callaghan, recommended O’Leary and Milne to the OSG, and added: Obviously we were delighted with the performances of all three crews throughout the campaign. They all knew the selection process in advance and the competition between them drove them all to strong performances.
It had been made clear beforehand by the Olympic steering committee, that actually securing the place for Ireland would not necessarily mean the crew in question became the national representatives in the Olympiad. And now just such a situation has occurred.
Treacy and Shanks took legal advice and a formal appeal has been launched with the Irish Sailing Association, which will now refer it to its Olympic steering committee, and then the Olympic Council of Ireland will be advised. In an interesting twist it seems that Britain's Star representatives, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson could figure in the controversy.
The boat that O’Leary and Milne used to achieve their dramatic results is the one Percy used in the Athens Games and it has been suggested that Percy could want his old boat back, if his latest boat continues to under perform in the Qingdao conditions.
In addition, Telegraph correspondent, Tim Jeffery has noted that O'Leary is also grandson of Robin Aisher, bronze medal winner for Britain in the 1968 Olympics, and is a UK resident and British passport holder.
Seems this could run and run . . .