At the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition, sailors Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell admitted that they were delighted to be heading to the 2012 Closing Ceremony as Paralympic medallists after winning SKUD class bronze at Weymouth and Portland today.
The medal is a first for Rickham (Epsom) and Birrell (Knutsford), who finished fifth on their event debut in Beijing four years ago, when they suffered the disappointment of leaving without a medal from ParalympicsGB’s most ever successful Games to date.
The pair went into the final day of racing today knowing a medal was already in the bag as they held an unassailable advantage over the Canadian boat in fourth position. They did still have a chance of a silver but a lack of breeze in Portland Harbour scuppered sailing today ensuring it was bronze for Great Britain.
Rickham and Birrell went into London 2012 as one of the favourites for gold. But although the duo admit that they are disappointed not to have claimed the top prize, they are happy not to have left empty handed again.
Rickham said: 'Clearly I am going to be a bit disappointed and gutted by how things have gone this week. But I didn’t want to go back to London to see the rest of the ParalympicsGB team without a medal as last time we went back to Beijing from Qingdao as one of the only ones without a medal because the team did so well.
'We’ve ticked that box. It’s nice to just get a medal for Paralympic sailing in Britain because the fact is that we haven’t done the job for the last few Games so we’re just proud to be part of that contingent that has managed to break the duck.'
Birrell said: 'I’m a lot happier today. Yesterday there was a bit of emotion because we didn’t sail as well as we could and although it was slim chance we had the possibility of a gold, yesterday morning we threw that away. Today I’m feeling a lot happier. We’re going to go to the Olympic Village with an Olympic medal.
'The way I always talk about this stuff with my Dad is that there are three tiers; there’s no medal, there’s a gold medal and a medal. So we would have obviously have preferred a silver, that’s absolutely obvious, but at least we’re taking something back, and even if we’d have come second we wouldn’t have won so it wouldn’t have been that much better. Everyone did so well in Beijing and we contributed nothing, it was horrible, so this time it was absolutely essential that we got a bronze.'
Rickham, who celebrates her 31st birthday on Tuesday, and 26-year-old Birrell have both been based around the South Coast for the past number of years but they both enjoyed enormous support from around the world during the Games.
Rickham’s parents Elethia and David flew over from their home in Jamaica to support their daughter in Weymouth and they were joined by Alex’s Los Angeles-based sister Victoria as well as other family members from the UK. Meanwhile the entire Birrell clan, including Niki’s parents Sally Ann and Mark and brother Christian, plus other friends and family, decamped from the North West to Portland. The pair admit they are very pleased to have given their supporters something to cheer about.
Rickham said: 'The support has been amazing from our friends and family and we know lots of people are out there right now cheering for us. Our support has been unbelievable.'
Birrell added: 'I’d like to thank everyone for such a wonderful opportunity to come to a home Paralympics with the best support team in the world helping us out all week. I feel very privileged to have had that opportunity and I am little bit gutted that we haven’t made it into a gold medal but equally we’ve got a medal to show the family.'
Britain hasn’t won a medal since sailing joined the full Paralympic Games programme at Sydney 2000. These medals comes in addition to the gold medal won by the British Sonar team of Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis and Tony Downs when the first Paralympic sailing event took place as a demonstration event at Atlanta 1996.