At the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition, it has been a historic day on the water for British sailing as Helena Lucas and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell won Paralympic silverware at Weymouth and Portland today. Lucas, the only woman in the fleet, won gold in the 2.4 Metre one-person keelboat event while Rickham and Birrell took bronze in the SKUD two-person keelboat.
Britain had not won a medal since sailing joined the full Paralympic Games programme at Sydney 2000. These medals come 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.
However, there was disappointment for the British Sonar three-person keelboat crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas who have not given up hope of being awarded a bronze medal as they continue to explore their options to appeal a four-point penalty that has denied them Paralympic silverware today.
All three teams were still in the hunt for medals heading into the final day of racing. Lucas was sat in first overall, already assured of at least silver, with a nine-point cushion over Heiko Kroger (GER) in second. Rickham and Birrell were guaranteed bronze but were sailing for silver sitting two points behind the Americans in second.
Despite their points’ deduction relegating them to fifth, the Sonars, who were in third overall before the penalty was imposed, could also still have landed a silver or bronze medal as just eight points separated the boats in second to seventh places.
However, a lack of breeze in Portland Harbour scuppered any of the final races from taking place meaning that the overnight results stood.
Lucas said: 'This is the dream, this is definitely the dream! It’s absolutely fantastic to have achieved it, I’m just really, really pleased. One of the key things all week was to try to stay out of the protest room, keep it simple, keep it clean and try not to get any disqualifications or false starts.
'I’ve got a great team behind me, the GB sailing support team is fantastic and make sure we go out on the water properly prepared, mentally and physically, and that no stone has been left unturned. Obviously my coach too, we’ve had a great week on the water and it’s been a great team effort out there. It’s fantastic.'
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.
'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: '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 but at least we’re taking something back. Even if we would 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.'
A protest by the jury against the Sonar team yesterday, for a minor off the water incident between an event technical officer and a member of the team support staff, saw a four point discretionary penalty imposed. Having spent much of last night and today trying to challenge the ruling, British Sailing Team officials are examining what avenues of appeal they have to contest the jury’s decision post-event.
Stephen Park, RYA Olympic Manager, said: 'We are trying to get the hearing reopened because we think there were some significant errors by the jury and some errors in the way they have interpreted the rules.
'When you get to any situation where the athletes scorecard is being altered through a misunderstanding between two shore staff, one of which is a technical official and one of which is a team support staff, about something that doesn’t have any impact on performance it is a sad day for the sport.
'We think that frankly, irrespective of the outcome, we need to make sure that this is rectified for the future. Obviously in the process we will be doing everything we can to get the hearing addressed appropriately and get John, Hannah and Steve the bronze medal that they deserve before the jury decision took it away from them.'
The medals won by the Paralympians brings British Sailing’s total Olympic and Paralympic medal haul for London 2012 to seven from 13 classes. Ben Ainslie kicked proceedings off with his record-breaking Finn class gold on Sunday 5 August before almost exactly a month later Lucas and the SKUD pair brought down the London 2012 curtain with their historic haul.