Ger McCarthy speaks with a young West Cork sailor who is making a name for himself at national and international level as the continues his quest to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo
BALTIMORE Sailing Club member Fionn Lyden came to prominence after winning a bronze medal at the U23 Finn World Championships this past summer.
Since then, the 22-year-old has continued his upward trajectory, claiming the ‘Champion of Champions’ trophy with Liam Manning at the All-Ireland Sailing Championships in Mullingar.
In his final year studying as a Civil Engineering student at UCC, Fionn Lyden is a busy man, but has his sights set on navigating the difficult qualification process and makes an Irish sailing team determined to qualify for Tokyo in three years’ time.
‘It is a bit of a complicated process when attempting to qualify for the Olympics, it’s certainly not straightforward,’ Fionn Lyden commented to The Southern Star.
‘Firstly, there are 20 nations involved in the Finn Class and maybe three or four continental countries included in that. Next summer, at an event in Aarhus, Denmark, the first eight nations will qualify for the Olympics. The following year in Italy, another eight qualify and the remainder then are the continentals but there should still be two European spots up for grabs in 2020.
‘To clarify, those events only qualify your country for the Olympics, but on top of that the Irish Sailing Association will have their own trials to fill the spots on their team that, hopefully, goes to Tokyo.
‘Obviously, the important thing at the moment is trying to ensure Ireland qualifies for 2020. In that regard, I am still in the process of putting on weight as I’m a little light for the boat. The top guys would always be between 95 and 100 kilos and I’m about 91 right now and want to be up to 95 by next April.
‘In the lighter winds, I’m going really well but I’m struggling speed-wise a bit when the winds get stronger. Yes, I have a lot of work to do, but feel it is an achievable goal to make the Olympics.’
Winning bronze at the U23 World Championships on Late Balaton in Hungary this past summer is one of the highlights of Fionn Lyden’s burgeoning career. Prior to that, he won the Celtic Ross Hotel-Southern Star-c103 West Cork Youth Sports Star of the Year award and went on to make a name for himself with UCC during his first year for the College in 2015.
Afloat.ie website’s ‘Sailor of the Month’ for August 2017, Lyden only become active in the Olympic Finn Class the previous December. The UCC student felt it was a necessary move considering the demands to keep his weight in check in the most demanding of sailing classes.
‘I only changed boat before this year’s World Championships in that I was sailing the Laser (lighter weight men’s Olympic Class) up until the previous Christmas,’ said the UCC Civil Engineering student.
‘I decided to move to the Finn Class because I was pushing the weight limit for it. On and off, there were times I was too heavy for the Laser Class and finding it difficult to keep the weight inside the ceiling.
‘The Finn Class just suited me better and is also more tactical when it comes to racing. The technical aspect was another reason to move in that there are more changes that can be made to the boat and I just liked getting involved in that as well.
‘I made the move around Christmas time and have a boat of my own down in Baltimore now, which I sail three or four days a week. I also train in Valencia in Spain and spent most of the summer before the World Championships down there with an international training group.’
Unsurprisingly, Baltimore Sailing Club has played a huge role in Fionn Lyden’s life. Located in the heart of the West Cork village and on the edge of Roaringwater Bay, the clubhouse is where Fionn’s parents first introduced him to the sport and began a love affair that has seen the 22-year-old move within touching distance of qualifying for the Olympics.
‘I have been sailing my whole life,’ commented Lyden.
‘My parents had me out sailing from a very young age, so I have been involved with the sport for as long as I can remember. I went to school in Schull and obviously sailed with my local Baltimore Sailing School throughout all of that time. I’m also a member of UCC sailing club at the moment.
‘It would have been pretty hard to avoid sailing whilst living in Baltimore, to be honest. Sailing has always been popular here, so much so that our club has record numbers involved at the minute, interest is that strong.
‘Everyone in the local area has always expressed an interest in it. My friends and I were no different and sailed with the club all the way through national and secondary school. As for the competitive side of the sport, it wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 years old that I first got involved but loved the thrill of competing and have continued sailing ever since.’
Baltimore Sailing had further reason to celebrate when Fionn Lyden brought home the ‘Champion of Champions’ trophy along with fellow crew member Liam Manning at the All-Ireland Sailing Championships in Mullingar recently.
Lyden and Liam Manning were represented as the Irish Team Racing Association nominees and Wild Card entries in the championship that was celebrating its 70th anniversary. Lyden held off GP14 World Champion Shane McCarthy from Greystones to claim sailing’s famous silver salver, a success that meant a great deal to the Baltimore native.
‘The winner of each different class of boats has their own national championships,’ Lyden explained. ‘Then, winners from each of those (classes) gets selected and all come together to race in a particular boat.
‘This year, it was the GP14, a boat that no-one should have a particular advantage over another competitor. There were 16 racers, all national champions, on the 70th anniversary of the event which was held up in Mullingar and, thankfully, I won.
‘I competed in it once before back in 2012, where I was second overall, but had been not invited back as I hadn’t picked up a national championship. It was a really nice to win, especially amongst Irish Sailing circles; it would be regarded as one of their most prestigious events.’
Those accolades look set to continue as Fionn Lyden enters the most important years of his sailing career.
2020 may seem like a long way off, but the Baltimore Sailing Club stalwart is positioning himself to make an impact at the highest level.