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Paralympics London 2012 - Sonars prepare for action

by IFDS on 31 Aug 2012
GRE Sonar Team preparing for the 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competitio?n at Weymouth, Dorset on August 28. Copyright IFDS David Staley - IFDS ©
The 14-boat Sonar fleet will line up on 1 September as the 42 sailors in the three-person keelboat begin their Paralympic pursuit.

British, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Israeli and German boats will be the front runners come race time.

John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (GBR) stand at the top of the world rankings at the start of the Paralympic Games. Led by Robertson, the British crew are no strangers to the Paralympic Games.

This crew came sixth in the Sonar class at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and displayed a steady, strong performance in the Worlds, taking bronze in 2012, and silver medals in both 2011 and 2010. In two major regattas this year they took gold in Weymouth and in Medemblik, the Netherlands, placing them on a medal run for the Paralympic Games.

Beijing 2008 gold medallists from Germany Jens Kroker, Robert Prem and Siegmund Mainka (GER) won the 2009 IFDS World Championship and will try to defend their Paralympic title at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Udo Hessels, Marcel Van De Veen and Mischa Rossen (NED) won the silver medal in the Sonar class at Athens 2004 and right now sit fourth in the world rankings. The crew won silver on Paralympic waters at an ISAF Sailing World Cup Regatta in June, improving on a second place in the Netherlands as they ramped up their preparations in search of an elusive Paralympic gold.

After their Athens performance, they quit competitive sailing, only to make an unexpected return in 2010 to win at the world championships in the Netherlands, prompting a decision to try again for the gold medal, although Hessels has said they need to be wary about the intense quality of competition that has emerged since they took the Athens silver.

Beijing 2008 silver medallists Bruno Jourdren and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary (FRA) return to Paralympics action again, this time with Eric Flageul. The trio won gold in the Netherlands ahead of the Paralympics and strung up some consistent results to finish second in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Sonar Standings.

The bronze medal in the Sonar class at Beijing 2008 went to Australians Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Graeme Martin (AUS). Harrison returns to the Paralympic Games in Weymouth and Portland with a new crew of Jonathan Harris (AUS) and Stephen Churm (AUS).

The Australian Sonar team finished in fourth place at the 2012 IFDS World Championships in Florida, with a third-place finish in their final race leaving the trio only one point away from the podium.

Norway's Sonar team of Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Per Eugen Kristiansen and Marie Solberg (NOR) won the 2012 IFDS World Championship and finished third in the ISAF Sailing World Cup. Wang-Hansen and his team recently won gold at the 2012 C Thomas Clagett Regatta in Newport, USA and have the capabilities to cause a stir in Weymouth.

Dror Cohen, Benny Vexler and Arnon Efrati (ISR) won gold in the Sonar at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games but finished off the podium in fifth place in the same event at Beijing 2008.

They went on to sail to gold at the 2011 world championships in Weymouth, but finished seventh at a recent regatta in Weymouth. It is now 20 years since helmsman Cohen, then a 24-year-old fighter pilot cadet, was partially paralysed in his lower body after a car accident. He participated as a crew member in the Sonar class at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games before leading the Israeli Sonar team to gold at Athens. Vexler lost an arm in the first Lebanon War in 1982 and Efrati also lost an arm in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. After narrowly missing out at Beijing, the Israeli Sonar team's aim is to become the first double gold medallists in Paralympic sailing history.

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