Sailor Finn Lynch will represent Ireland in the Men's laser.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 20-year-old set to represent Ireland at the Rio Olympics

Sailor Finn Lynch discusses moving to Croatia after his Leaving Cert and his hopes for for the next few weeks of action in Brazil.
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Updated at 17.12

BACK IN 2013, during an interview with The42, Annalise Murphy was asked about other talented Irish sailors.

Fresh from her triumph at the Laser Radial European championship event, Murphy singled out then-17-year-old Finn Lynch as someone she had high hopes for.

It had been a momentous week too for the “absolute star of a sailor,” as Murphy described him.

Lynch showed evidence of his potential by winning the 2013 U21 Men’s Laser Radial title — not bad for someone who hadn’t even done his Leaving Cert yet.

And it wasn’t his only impressive feat. Aged 16, Lynch won the silver at 2012’s ISAF Youth Worlds in Dublin Bay.

A few years on and now aged 20, Lynch is preparing to represent Ireland in the Men’s laser in Rio. For the promising Irish athlete, it will be the culmination of years of hard work and a long love affair with sailing.

Born in Australia, he moved to Carlow at the age of two and “caught the (sailing) bug” while still a child. His brothers were passionate about the sport and so he followed suit.

I started in Blessington when I was eight years old,” he recalls. “My dad holding onto the front of my boat to make sure I didn’t stray too far away — that’s my earliest memory from sailing.”

Lynch quickly developed a talent for the sport and was able to pursue it thanks to financial support from “personal sponsors, family and friends”.

Big things were expected of the youngster and so it was no surprise that life moved fast after he completed his Leaving Cert in 2014 and he moved to Croatia to train full-time.

“Since I was in third or fourth year, I was waiting for school to finish so I could take up full-time sailing. This was always the pathway for me — to go to Croatia and train there — and I wouldn’t change it, it’s been a great opportunity.

When I moved into the laser radial, which is the boat that Annalise sails now, the ISA coach was a Croatian sailor, so there was always a relationship between Irish sailing and Croatian sailing. (Irish Sailing Association high-performance director) James O’Callaghan put in a good word for me with this Croatian sailing team and tried to create a relationship.”

Having impressed in a trial, Lynch was taken on by legendary coach Jozo Jakelic (“a big scary Croatian man,” he jokes). The fact that Pavlos Kontides, the Cypriot who won silver in Lynch’s event at London 2012, and Tonci Stipanovic, the Croatian who came fourth, are also part of this five-man training team gives an indication of the extremely high standards he consistently needs to meet.

Moreover, living in Split and sailing around the world is not always as fancy as it sounds, according to Lynch, who is set to become Ireland’s youngest Olympic helmsman. He experienced somewhat of a culture shock upon initially moving to Croatia after finishing school.

I moved into an apartment with no heating, no TV and no internet. It was super cheap — that’s the reason I went there. I was alone in a different country trying to improve my sailing and get on to this Croatian team. So it’s not glamorous all the time, travelling Europe alone.

“But since I’ve gotten on this team, it’s been really great, there’s a lot of camaraderie, you learn a lot from the older (team) members and I’m really enjoying my sailing.”

The more direct and brutally honest style of coaching is also different, he explains.

“In Ireland it’s usually say one bad thing, say one good thing. In Croatia, it’s ‘this is what we need to do and this is how we’re going to do it.’”

Ireland's Rio-bound Olympic sailors from left to right: Matt McGovern (49er), Annalise Murphy (Laser Radial), Saskia Tidey (49erFX), Finn Lynch (Laser Standard) and Ryan Seaton (49er) - Not pictured: Andrea Brewster (49erFX).

Source: Dan Sheridan

Lynch spends his downtime going for walks and playing pool in Split, but there is not much time to relax amid a hectic schedule.

“It’s eight in the morning gym and then sailing, eight in the evening gym again, so it’s that six days a week,” he explains.

His brother Ben was also involved in the sport, and currently is a successful coach with the Irish Paralympic team, while his girlfriend is a young Norwegian sailor who missed out on qualification for Rio but hopes to be ready for Tokyo in four years’ time. His friends back in Ireland, however, have little interest in the sport.

The explanations started when I was 12 or 13 and not going to the party on the Saturday,” he says. “All my close friends know not to ask me too many questions (about sailing) because they don’t understand it. It’s nice — they don’t really care about my sailing, they just care about me in general. So whenever I’m home in Carlow, it’s just relaxing to hang out with them.”

And while he acknowledges the necessary financial assistance provided from a campaign set up by his club in helping him get to Rio, Lynch plays down suggestions that sailing is ‘a rich person’s sport’.

“More recently, it’s much easier to get into sailing,” he says. “The ISA are starting an initiative called ‘try sailing’ just to promote it.

There are over 70 different centres where people can come and try sailing. Most people who are sailing in Dublin don’t own a boat. You can come and crew on a boat. It’s really a lot more options than there used to be.”

Yet while everything has ultimately fallen into place, it wasn’t always plain sailing, literally and figuratively speaking, for the youngster. He describes his persistent attempts to secure qualification as “a stressful time”.

In addition to the general pressure of the situation, the Irish starlet’s preparations were badly hampered after he fell off a bike while on a mountain hike in Croatia four weeks before the first Olympics trials in Rio last December.

Lynch suffered a dislocated shoulder as a result of the accident and at first, feared that his Olympic hopes could be in jeopardy.

“There were thoughts of the Olympic trials and ‘oh no, this might not happen’. But in Sports Med Ireland on Kildare Street, I did some pretty intense rehab.

I managed to sail the first regatta and then the second regatta in Spain, it went okay. At the final regatta in May in Mexico at the World Championships, I finally pulled it out of the bag (to qualify) and had a good one.

“In the end, I won the trials by 20 points, but it certainly wasn’t that relaxing the whole way through.”

With his shoulder fully healed and having overcome stiff competition for a spot from London 2012 participant James Espey among others, Lynch is now raring to go for Rio.

In terms of medal chances, the event will almost certainly be too soon for the Carlow starlet, though the freedom which this lack of expectation brings is likely to be beneficial to his cause.

So, with all that in mind, what would he actually consider to be a positive result in Rio?

The goal, for me, always was to make the Tokyo Olympics. Making this Olympics, I’m the youngest guy on the start line, and that takes a bit of weight off the shoulders.

“Nobody is expecting too much. I’m obviously going to go out there and try my best and really give it everything I have, but mostly, it’s (about) enjoying the experience.

“So, anywhere inside the top half would be a great result for me.”

The sailors are in Dublin to support the Irish Sailing Association’s ‘Try Sailing’ campaign, a new initative to attract newcomers to the sport. A network of 70 clubs and centres around Ireland are involved in providing taster events for both competitive and general boating activities.

A full list of ‘Try Sailing’ courses and opportunities are available on sailing.ie and profiles of the individual athletes as well as details of the Pathway and Academy sailors are available on isaperformance.ie

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