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Northern Ireland sailors battling for final spots at 2021 Olympic Games

by Emma Blee 22 Mar 09:22 PDT
Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle © Sailing Energy

Three Northern Ireland sailors are all battling for a place at the Olympic Games with qualification events taking place in the next few weeks.

Ryan Seaton, Oisin McClelland and Liam Glynn have been training for over four years and will take to the water in coming weeks in a bid to qualify the nation and secure their place at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

In sailing, nations can qualify over 10 Olympic disciplines but just one boat is eventually selected to represent each nation in each discipline. The Northern Ireland athletes represent three different classes - the Finn, 49er and ILCA (formerly known as the Laser).

Double Olympic veteran and World Cup silver medallist, Ryan Seaton, from Carrickfergus, is paired with crew Seafra Guilfoyle from Cork, following his 10th place finish with Matt McGovern at Rio in 2016.

The pair had a solid start to the Regatta, which forms the final qualification event for the class. They had an 11-8-8 for the day in a 21 boat flight. Three days of qualification races will decide the split for Gold and Silver fleets on Wednesday that will go on to decide the medal race final on Friday (26 March).

Ryan and Seafra finished 10th at the Olympic Test event in Endoshima and 30th at the 2020 World Championships.

Ahead of the race, Seaton commented: "It's all in, to qualify the nation. If we qualify, we will go to the Olympics. Seafra and I have been doing a serious amount of work over the past year, we are motivated and ready to put down a good performance.

"The outcome goal is to qualify for Tokyo 2021 and our process goals are to keep focused on our individual roles, to enjoy the racing and to believe in our ability as a team to perform.

"All the work is done now, and we are ready to enjoy the challenge. This is what it's all about, the big events, and performing at these events when it really counts.

"I would like to thank everyone at Sport Northern Ireland and RYA NI for the continued support. It's a big team effort."

Campaigning in the men's heavyweight Finn class since 2015, Oisin McClelland of Donaghadee has secured several results with the top 32 Worlds, 23 in the 2020 Europeans and a credible 8th in Kieler Week.

Portugal will host the Finn Gold Cup early this May and McClelland, which will be a big event for McClelland. It will not only determine the 2021 Finn world champion but also the final two places at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

There are two places left to decide, one European place and one African place to complete the fleet taking part in the Games.

It is also the final World Championship for the class as an Olympic boat after the Finn was removed from the games for Paris 2024 and the future. The 2021 Finn Gold Cup will be decided over a 10 race series after the class decided to drop the medal race last year.

McClelland comments: "My primary goal is to qualify for Tokyo, it's the goal I have built this campaign around and I set out to achieve in 2016. However, that aside, this may be the last Finn Gold Cup held as an Olympic class I would really like to achieve a great result overall.

"With the help and support of RYA Northern Ireland, I've steadily climbed the rankings in the major international regattas. I've made good progress despite the tough year, systematically targeting weaknesses and building them into strengths. I look forward to testing this in May."

He adds: "Give me the right conditions I can achieve some top-level race results, my focus going into the regatta is to combine the progress in each area of my training from the past three years and achieve the best result I can."

For Liam Glynn of Ballyholme Yacht Club the Olympic Qualifying event for the Lasers has been confirmed as the 2021 ILCA Vilamoura International Championship, taking place from 17-24 April.

This is the last chance for Liam to qualify the nation with two places up for grabs against Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. Liam will be one of three other sailors to represent Ireland with stablemates Finn Lynch and Ewan McMahon.

Rising through the youth and u21 ranks, securing a World Junior title and u21 Bronze along the way. Liam has shown steady progression in what is arguably one of the harder Olympic Classes to break. Most recently a 43rd in last October's European Championship shows encouraging signs for the future.

He comments: "I am looking forward to racing at the final Olympics qualification regatta. With two European spots still available to the goal is simple, finish in the top two non-qualified nations. I am very grateful for the opportunity to race against the best in the world, especially amid a global pandemic.

"It has been a challenging winter of training but I am pleased with my form and mindset in these final months preparation. I will set my sights firmly on what is achievable, with the help of my amazing support team, each day from now until the end of the regatta and enjoy the experience along the way."

Glynn adds: "It is an exciting prospect to be competing for Olympic qualification and I would love to give all the followers at home something to cheer for this summer."

RYA Northern Ireland's Performance Manager, Andrew Baker, says it is an exciting few months ahead for the sailors and supporters.

He comments: "These three events will be a milestone in the RYA Northern Ireland Performance Programme. Not only do we have three athletes representing across three different classes but they also stand out as large international events which over the past year have been few and far between due to Covid."

He adds: "I am very happy that we are in the position to have three sailors vying for Olympic qualification. All the sailors have worked their way through our club racing scene and performance pathways. The hard work is done, it is now time to trust in their training, believe in their ability and get out there to do it. ?

"I hope our current young sailors will be motivated by witnessing our athletes compete at the highest level and return to our sport with a new hunger to perform and after such a challenging year to simply enjoy the freedom sailing offers us all."

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