by Craig Heydon
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch have won gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games with a race to spare.
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch on their way to gold in Weymouth
Gold at London 2012 has been the target from the first Skud 18 race that Fitzgibbon and Tesch competed in together back in January 2011. Since then the pair hasn’t finished off the podium and the result at London 2012 is a great reward for their hard work.
It’s the first time that either sailor has won Paralympic gold.
Fitzgibbon added to his silver medal from Beijing 2008, while for Tesch it’s gold at her sixth Paralympic Games after winning silver and bronze medals in wheelchair basketball.
Fitzgibbon and Tesch took a four point lead into the penultimate day of Skud 18 racing, with their American and British opponents chasing hard. The Australians began the day in style, leading at each mark to take the race one win, putting one hand on the gold medal.
In race two the pair was third to the top mark, picking up a spot on the downwind run and then chasing their Italian opponents for the remainder of the race. The Italians got the win but a second place finish for Fitzgibbon and Tesch was more than enough to claim the gold.
The Australians currently lead the American team by six points and with Fitzgibbon and Tesch currently dropping their worst result of a third, the gold medal is theirs.
'I still can’t quite believe that we’ve got it, and with one race to go,' said Tesch. 'It’s completely weird for me to win before the final but at the same time it’s an amazing feeling. We don’t have to race tomorrow but we will, we’ll go out there and continue to do what we’ve done all week.
'Since we teamed up at the beginning of last year we’ve just taken it race by race,' she said. 'Since I started Dan and our team have done a phenomenal job of teaching me everything I needed to know to get to here. We’ve done a lot of training at home, often by ourselves and sometimes with another boat. It’s great to come here and race against the best in the world and have it all come together.'
The gold medal came at the end of a tough week for Tesch, after her mother lost her battle with cancer on day one of racing.
'I knew that mum wasn’t well at all but I thought she’d make it through the week so it was a real shock to get the news after day one here,' said Tesch. 'She was definitely out there with us, today the sun was shining and the breeze was great, mum was certainly looking down on us and pushing us along.
'I was able to channel all of that emotion this week and we won the gold medal for mum,' she said. 'I’ve watched mum battle with cancer and saw how tough it is. They pull their armour on each day and battle cancer and we did the same thing and went out there and won the gold medal for all the people going through what my mum did.'
Australia’s Sonar crew has the chance to make it a second London 2012 Paralympic Games medal for the country when they contest the final race on Thursday. Colin Harrison, Stephen Harris and Jonathan Churm are currently sixth overall, just five points off third and a further two off second. The gold medal has been wrapped up by the Dutch but it’s set to be an intense battle to see who claims silver and bronze.
The Germans are currently in the box seat in second, with the Norwegians and French just behind them, tied on points for third. Great Britain is holding down fourth with the Australians hot on their heels. It was a busy day on the water with the Sonar fleet completing three races to get back on schedule. With the breeze between 10 and 15 knots for most of the day there was once again close racing on Portland Harbour. Harrison and crew began their day with a third, before finishing sixth in race two and ninth in race three.
Matt Bugg heads into the final 2.4mR class race in seventh position following a mixed day on the water. Bugg began his day well, finishing race one in fourth. He was seventh at the halfway point of the race, picking up a spot on the next beat and then two on the final downwind to close the gap to the leaders and finish fourth. Unfortunately Bugg was forced to retired from race 10 after a collision with his Finnish opponent. Bugg was given average points for the race and heads into Thursday’s final race with a chance to improve his overall standings.
Skud 18 – Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch – first overall
Sonar – Colin Harrison, Stephen Harris and Jonathan Churm – sixth overall
2.4mR – Matt Bugg – seventh overall
Australian sailors information here
Australian Paralympic Committee here