by Craig Heydon
The sailors to represent Australia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games have been named with the team a mixture of experienced campaigners and first time Paralympians.
Fitzgibbon and Tesch on their way to Gold in Miami - Photo Rolex - Daniel Forster
Australia is sending three crews to the London 2012 Paralympic Games with sailors to compete in the Skud 18, Sonar and 2.4mR classes. Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch will race in the Skud 18 class, with Colin Harrison, Stephen Churm and Jonathan Harris racing in the Sonar and Matt Bugg in the single person 2.4mR.
Yachting Australia High Performance Director Peter Conde said that the three crews were all strong and present a great opportunity for Australia to add to its Paralympic sailing medal tally. 'Since sailing became a Paralympic sport in 2000 Australia has won a Gold, a Silver and a Bronze and we’re looking to this team to increase the tally at London 2012,' said Conde.
'We’ve selected the three crews that we believe provide the best opportunity to do that. 'Dan and Liesl have been on the podium at every regatta they have competed in as a crew, including Bronze at the 2012 IFDS World Championships and Gold at the ISAF Sailing World Cup round in Miami,' he said.
'In the Sonar class Colin, Stephen and Jonathan have only competed in the one regatta together but that was a very strong fourth place at January’s IFDS World Championships and Matt Bugg continues to get stronger and work his way up the ladder at every event in the 2.4mR.'
Skud 18 London 2012 will be Liesl Tesch’s sixth straight Paralympic Games appearance but her first in sailing as she aims for that elusive Gold medal. Tesch will join skipper Daniel Fitzgibbon in the Skud 18 with Fitzgibbon having won Silver at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
'I want that Gold medal. I want to complete the set, I’ve got two Silvers and a Bronze and now it’s time for the Gold,' said Tesch. 'It’s such a big challenge for me to be going to a Games with a different sport. But with a different sport comes a different type of excitement.'
The pair has sailed exceptionally well since teaming up together at the beginning of 2011 and will be challenging for Gold this September. 'It’s been my goal for the last four years to get to the Games and we’ve been working really hard to achieve this dream,' said Fitzgibbon. 'Gold is our goal. We know how to get Silver, we’ve done that and now we want to take the next step up and take the Gold.'
Fitzgibbon and Tesch are currently on their way to Hyeres, France, to compete in round four of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, beginning this weekend.
Sonar Australia’s representatives in the Sonar class, Colin Harrison, Stephen Harris and Jonathan Churm, may only be a new combination but they bring a wealth of experience to the boat. Skipper Harrison will be competing at his third Paralympics having finished fifth in Athens in 2004 and then winning Bronze at Beijing 2008.
Harrison, Harris and Churm only teamed up at the end of 2011 but got their partnership off to a great start, finishing fourth at the 2012 IFDS World Championships in Florida at the beginning of the year, just two points off second place. Harris, who has been sailing for more than 40 years, will be competing at his first Paralympic Games.
'I just love the strategic and tactical side of yacht racing and when you’re sailing against the world’s best, it heightens the satisfaction of doing well,' said Harris. 'The international competition is very high. We’re sailing against the best teams in the world who have been together many years. But my feeling is that there is enough talent on this boat, we are realistic medal contenders.'
Churm is also a lifelong sailor and the 57-year-old is looking forward to his Paralympic Games debut. 'It’s been an ambition of mine since 1998 and I’m excited, excited to represent my county and excited by the team that’s together, I think we’ve got great medal prospects and it’s my passion,' said Churm.
'Sailing has been my passion for a long, long, time now and I’ve been working very hard to get there.' The crew will next compete at the ISAF Sailing World Cup round in Holland at the end of May, before the Sail for Gold Regatta, a final hit out on the Paralympic Games course before the main event. 2.4mR Tasmanian Matt Bugg will compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games having only first represented Australia in 2010. The 31-year-old finished 12th in the 2.4mR at the 2012 IFDS World Championships with the class featuring incredibly close racing.
'I’m extremely excited. I’m proud to be representing my country and thoroughly looking forward to the Games themselves and competing at the highest level,' said Bugg. 'I’ve been campaigning for the Games for the last three years and it’s been a lot of hard work. At the start of the three years I wasn’t at the level I needed to be at to compete at the Games. But I’ve been really raising my standard to a level where I can now compete for a medal.
'I’m proud of being Tasmanian, I always make a point of representing Tasmania wherever I go and the Games is now another opportunity for me to do that,' he said.
Bugg is currently training at home before heading to Europe for regattas in Holland and Weymouth before the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be held between August 29 and September 9.
More information on the Australian Sailing Team here