by Dana Paxton
Since the final day of competition at the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition was canceled due to lack of wind, racing results to date stood as final. The U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team’s Jen French and JP Creignou collected a silver medal in the SKUD-18 event (Two Person Keelboat). Final standings for Team USA include Mark LeBlanc sixth in the 2.4mR (One Person Keelboat) and Paul Callahan, Tom Brown and Bradley Johnson seventh in the Sonar (Three Person Keelboat).
SKUD-18: Jen French and JP Creignou - Paralympics London 2012
Jen French (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and JP Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla.) won a silver medal in the SKUD-18 by collecting consistent finishes across the 10-races series. They won three races and never finished worse than the fifth, which they discarded. This was the first Paralympic Games for both.
'It’s always fun to get more sailing in, but it’s nice to know the race committee is cognizant of getting in good racing,' said French of the decision to end racing without a final race.
Throughout the week, the pair competed at the top of the fleet, and was among the top five boats daily. 'I think what made the regatta fun was that it was tight racing in the entire fleet. Hats off to Australia for their gold medal, and to the Canadians, who are our training partners. They did very well.'
Speaking about the conditions over the past week, French explained that while it was different than the past few years of training, it was a challenge. 'Everyone said that Portland would be a high-wind venue,' said French. 'At the end of the end of the day you had a lot of variable conditions and the top sailors who can sail in the variety of conditions are the ones that come out on top. Obviously the Aussies did the best.'
Gold went to Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS) and bronze to Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) in the 11-boat fleet.
In the One Person Keelboat event (2.4mR), Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La.) finished in sixth overall in the 16-boat fleet.
Over the past week, LeBlanc’s scores across the 10-race series included five top-five results, but the turning point for his overall score may have come on day three when he had a disappointing day capped off with an OCS penalty for starting early in race 6.
At the conclusion of day five, he explained that the competition has been challenging and at the same time bittersweet. 'I’ve been fairly aggressive this whole week because I know I have to be to win,' he said. 'That means pushing the starting line, and maybe taking a bigger risk. Every person ahead of me is a world champion and/or a gold medalist. There are three previous Paralympic gold medalists ahead of me.'
Gold, silver and bronze went to Helena Lucas (GBR), Heiko Kroger (GER) and Thierry Schmitter (NED), respectively.
Although this is his first Paralympic Games, LeBlanc pointed out that he has been campaigning since 2006. 'After Hurricane Katrina, all of the boats in New Orleans were wiped out,' he explained. 'I was introduced to the 2.4mR and things progressed rapidly for me from there.'
Paul Callahan (Cape Coral, Fla./Newport R.I.), Tom Brown (Castine, Me.) and Bradley Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla.) finished the regatta only seven points off the podium.
Although the Sonar fleet completed 10 races, it is safe to say the Team was looking forward to sailing one final race. Unfortunately, with the lack of wind it was not going to be, leaving them in seventh.
For the 2012 Paralympic Games, Paul Callahan, Tom Brown and Bradley Johnson teamed up at the suggestion of coach Betsy Alison, who is the Paralympic coach for the US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider. All three sailors are Paralympians, with Johnson winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Games in the Sonar. Brown is a two-time Paralympic medalist, winning silver (2004) and bronze (2000) in the 2.4mR.
US Sailing London 2012 website