by Dana Paxton
At the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition, with podium positions riding on the line for the U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team, day five was a crucial point in the competition. Adding to the excitement was a change in wind conditions, with 15-20 knots of wind, the most seen during the Games. Jen French and JP Creignou relished the conditions and held tight to their second place overall in the SKUD-18 event (Two Person Keelboat).
Sonars racing on day 5 - Paralympics London 2012
For Mark LeBlanc, in the 2.4mR (One Person Keelboat) and Paul Callahan, Tom Brown and Bradley Johnson, in the Sonar (Three Person Keelboat), the day didn’t bring the advanced standing they had planned for. They are in sixth and seventh overall, respectively. Two races were held in the SKUD-18 and 2.4mR, with three completed in the Sonar.
The duo of Jen French (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and JP Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla.) continued their impressive command of the Two Person Keelboat (SKUD-18) event with race finishes of second and third.
They held their silver medal position in the fleet, and now have one race to seal their standing. The Australian team of Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch has a six-point lead in first, so it will be difficult to pass them in the standings. However, with a 15-point gap down to fifth place, it appears that the race will be with the British team for silver or bronze.
'The battle isn’t over with,' French cautioned. 'We have to stay on top of things tomorrow. We’ll look at things differently. We’ll still sail fast. It’s still fleet racing, not match racing. We’ll stay with our same game plan that has done us well.'
Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La.) started the day strong, collecting a second in race 9, however things didn’t quite go according to plan in race 10. He now finds himself in sixth place overall in the One Person Keelboat event (2.4mR).
'I had a decent start, but couldn’t do my game plan,' said LeBlanc. 'I ended up on the wrong side of the first major shift and trying to claw your way back from the top guys is pretty tough. When the shift comes everyone tacks. You have to gravitate toward an edge and get a little lucky. I caught up, but it’s tough to pass.'
With the wind dying as the day went on, LeBlanc explained that shifty conditions weren’t difficult for him, but it was more that the fleet was so close together. '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 are ahead of me.'
Although they started the day in third place overall in the Three Person Keelboat (Sonar) event, Paul Callahan (Cape Coral, Fla./Newport R.I.), Tom Brown (Castine, Me.) and Bradley Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla.) finished the day in seventh overall, seven points off the podium.
'It was a tough day,' said Johnson. 'There’s not much else I can say about it other than it was tough.'
The Sonar fleet sailed three races, making up for the one missed on Tuesday. Race 8 was up first and with a troubling start they struggled to make up for it, and finished in 10th. That put them into fifth overall with two more races to better their position.
Race 9 was a classic tactical race, with Callahan, Brown and Johnson sailing masterfully against the fleet. They added a third place to pull into fourth overall. It would be tight for the final race of the day, race 10. Despite fighting hard throughout the race, they could not get themselves a better finish than 10th.
With one race remaining, it will be up to Callahan, Brown and Johnson to better their overall position.
Thursday, Sept. 6 is the final day of racing at the 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta and one race is planned in each of the three Paralympic events: Three Person Keelboat (Sonar), One Person Keelboat (2.4mR) and Two Person Keelboat (SKUD-18).
US Sailing London 2012 website