At the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition, Britain’s Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell will be sailing for SKUD class silver tomorrow after guaranteeing at least a bronze medal on day five at Weymouth and Portland. But a gold medal in the two-person keelboat event is now out of the grasp of Rickham (Epsom) and Birrell (Knutsford) as Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS) hold an unassailable lead at the head of the fleet heading into tomorrow’s final race.
SKUD 18 racing on day five of the 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition
The Brits went into their two races today still with their sights on gold, sitting four points behind the Aussies overnight. But third and fifth place finishes in Portland Harbour, coupled with a first and second for the Aussie team, means that Rickham and Birrell will now engage in a straight head-to-head with the Americans Jen French and J-P Creignou for silver tomorrow.
Birrell said: 'Congratulations to the Australians they have sailed a good regatta. Alex and I obviously wanted that gold medal so are a bit disappointed right now. We’ve got a bronze medal in the bag and are going to wake up in the morning and fight as hard as we can against the Americans for silver, which is the best we can do now.'
Rickham said: 'It is very much game on for silver, all we can do is to try and put together the best regatta. We have done everything we could but it’s been a tough week for Niki and I coming in here favourites and with expectations. We have sailed our hearts out so we will just have to see what tomorrow brings. Everyone has brought their ‘A Game’ and we have to respect that, we can’t walk away and say we haven’t tried our hardest and that they haven’t put everything down on the line too.'
Whereas the last couple of days have seen the sailors contending with light, shifting breezes in Portland Harbour, today was much windier up between 12-15 knots.
Rickham admits that the pair have struggled with their downwind pace during the regatta but is hoping they find that little bit of luck that has so far eluded them for their final silver push.
She added: 'If we can get a jump on the Americans off the start line then hopefully we can try and hold in there for the whole race. Today it seemed very much apparent that we were just on the back foot downwind. We kept battling our way upwind and then downwind we were losing out quite badly.
'There is an element of luck in sailing and I don’t think it has really been in Niki and mine’s favour this week. We have gone to lots of regattas where we have come away with that little bit of luck but that’s not taking away from how the Australians have sailed. They have sailed a great regatta and thoroughly deserve their gold medal.'
The first Paralympic sailing event took place as demonstration sport at Atlanta 1996 in the Sonar boat (plus reserve). The British crew of Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis and Tony Downs won gold. But a Paralympic medal has eluded Britain since sailing joined the full Paralympic Games programme at Sydney 2000.
The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta runs from Saturday 1st September to Thursday 6th September.
Two races per day are scheduled for each class from first to 5th September, with one race for each class on the final day (6th September). Racing is scheduled to start at 11am daily.
RYA London 2012 website