by Dana Paxton
At the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition, two first-place finishes by Jen French and JP Creignou in the SKUD-18 event (Two Person Keelboat) highlighted the action taking place in Weymouth and Portland, U.K. They moved into third overall, while Mark LeBlanc ended the day in fourth overall in the 2.4mR (One Person Keelboat) and Paul Callahan, Tom Brown and Bradley Johnson, in fourth in the Sonar (Three Person Keelboat).
SKUD 18 racing on day 2 of the 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition
Jen French (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and JP Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla.) continued to add to their impressive score line by adding two first-place finishes in the very competitive SKUD-18 fleet. French cautioned that the level of competition in the Two Person Keelboat is very high and with it being early in the competition, they’re not letting up anytime soon.
'It’s tight at the top of the fleet and anything can happen,' said French after sailing. 'It’s only race day two. A lot can happen, but we do know the competition is pretty fierce at the top.'
On Monday, they will wear the third-place pinnies as well as a colored dot on their mainsail to signify their fleet position. The Australia team of Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch is currently in first, while the British team of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell is in second. Only one point separates first, second and third places., and tomorrow’s race five will allow all teams to throw out their worst score.
In the One Person Keelboat, Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La.) turned in a seventh and fifth to hold onto his overall fourth place. The 16-boat 2.4mR fleet is very competitive in each race, making every finish count.
'I had a so-so start in the first race,' LeBlanc said. 'I got pinned out after the start and it was tough coming back. I was able to pass some boats downwind and finish seventh. I think my speed is good, but it’s different fleet racing than what we usually see. Here, everyone is looking to tack on you.'
Mark LeBlanc racing on Sept. 2 - London Paralympics 2012
The second race was clearly a better result for LeBlanc, one that he will look to improve upon with each race. 'It’s about getting a better start' he explained. 'The top of the fleet tacked twice to my six in the first minute of the race. If you can find a lane and hold it right off the starting line, you’re usually in a good position for top five.'
Overall, he noted there are seven more races to sail and while fourth overall is a good position, his goal is for more. 'It’s not where I want to be,' he said. 'but I have some room to improve and I plan to do that this week.'
Current fleet standings have Heiko Kroger (GER) in first, Thierry Schmitter (NED) in second, and Helena Lucas (GBR). LeBlanc is currently six points out of third place.
For the Three Person Keelboat team of Paul Callahan (Cape Coral, Fla./Newport R.I.), Tom Brown (Castine, Me.) and Bradley Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla.), day two was an opportunity to improve the overall points total. That’s exactly what they did with a ninth and third place finishes. They’re currently in fourth place overall behind Australia, The Netherlands and France, just seven points behind.
'Today was competitive as usual,' said Johnson after racing. 'It was a hard-fought battle. We were following the pressure. The key was the pressure lines. That is all today was.'
He noted that the wind pressure on the race course can be a challenge, but there is more to it depending on the conditions. 'Today was still tactical, but in tomorrow’s light air, we’ll find out,' he said. 'We’re playing each day as it comes. We’re used to having a lot of breeze here, but it hasn’t been that way. We’re better when we’re most focused as a team. And we are at the moment. It’s not easy. Everyone here is here because they’re great competitors and we’re proud to be part of the group.'
Racing on Sept. 3 is scheduled to begin at 11:00 BST with the SKUD-18, 2.4mR and then the Sonar races at 14:00.
US Olympic website