Competition for the London 2012 Paralympic Games is set to get underway on Saturday, 1st September at Weymouth and Portland. John Robertson believes Britain’s sailors can ride on the crest of the Olympic wave to claim Britain’s first ever Paralympic sailing medal as the Games get underway.
John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, (GBR) racing in the Sonar class
Sunderland’s Robertson, paralysed from the chest down as a result of a motorbike accident in 1994, admits the buzz around the Paralympics in the wake of the unprecedented success of the London 2012 Olympics has been a massive inspiration to the whole Paralympic team as they prepare for their medal assaults.
The 40-year-old former RAF weapons technician, who sails in the Sonar (three-person keelboat) event with teammates Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas endured the disappointment of finishing sixth at their previous two Paralympic Games outings at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
But Robertson is confident that the lessons learned over the past four years can help them capitalise on what is set to be another historic fortnight for British sport.
He said: 'It’s a massive positive that everyone is so positive about sport and especially about Paralympic sport. They just want to see what these disabled athletes can do. In a way I think people look forward to the Paralympics more because they see it, in some ways, that people have to work that little bit harder. We don’t see that, we just see ourselves as athletes but I think the public do.
'For myself there is about 20 people coming down from Sunderland, as well as people coming down for Hannah and Steve, so if you multiply that you’re looking at a good 100 people just supporting us, never mind the whole team or the public. I know the public are really keen to come and watch so it’s going to be pretty awesome.
'The disappointment of Beijing was pretty massive and it took us a while to get over that. But that gives you a bit more drive in a positive way to see if we can prove ourselves this time, which we didn’t do in Beijing. We had won the Test Event, which was a really good, fun event in May, but then in September there just seemed more pressure and I don’t think we were prepared for that. We got to the venue and there was a massive 200ft banner with our picture on it! It was like ‘Oh Holy Moly!’
'Dealing with that circus was a bit of a head job for us at the time. We sailed well by the end of the week but missed opportunities in the first two or three days and couldn’t get back. But that gives you more spark to say ‘Let’s do it right this time.'
John Robertson, Sonar
The Sonar has been in the Paralympics since the first sailing demonstration event took place at Atlanta 1996. The British crew of Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis, Tony Downs and Ian Harrison won gold. But a Paralympic medal has eluded Britain since sailing joined the full Paralympic programme at Sydney 2000.
However, having added three more World Championships medals to their collection since China, including silver in the London 2012 venue last year, Robertson believes he and his teammates are ready to put that statistic to bed.
He added: 'I think we can win gold, we believe we can do it, we’ve just got to work very hard next week and make sure we do the job. To get any medal at a Games is pretty awesome but to get a gold medal is the dream and to do it at a home Games is a double dream. There are no words to describe it really.'
In sailing competitors are classified according to a points system from 1-7, where low points are given to the severely disabled and high points for the less disabled. For the Sonar each crew of three is allowed a maximum of 14 points between them.
The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta runs from Saturday 1 September to Thursday 6 September.
There are three Paralympic classes – the 2.4mR (one-person keelboat), SKUD-18 (two-person keelboat) and Sonar. Each class completes a series of 11 races. The sailors accrue points depending on where they finish in a race (ie: 1First = One point etc). The boat with the lowest overall score at the end of the series wins gold.
Two races per day are scheduled for each class from 1 to 5 September, with one race for each class on the final day (6 September). Racing is scheduled to start at 11am daily.