British sailors Niki Birrell and Alex Rickham have boosted their chances of selection for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, clinching bronze in the SKUD class at the US Disabled-Open Midwinters in St Petersburg, USA, in only their second regatta together.
Birrell, from Knutsford in Cheshire, and Epsom’s Rickham joined forces in the two-person Paralympic keelboat class and raced their first event – part of the British selection trials for the Paralympic Games – at the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta back in January.
There they finished fifth but more crucially in terms of putting them in the early driving seat for the sole British SKUD berth for Beijing they finished ahead of their rivals for China selection, Allan Smith and Jackie Gay.
Now, with a Midwinters bronze medal around their necks the Skandia Team GBR pair will be hoping to have earned their call for the Paralympic Regatta, which gets underway in Qingdao on Monday 8 September.
Birrell, 21, previously sailed in the Olympic 470 class with his brother Christian before making the switch to the 2.4mR single-handed Paralympic class last summer and raced at the IFDS World Disabled Championships in Rochester, USA, in September.
But with competition already fierce with Helena Lucas and Megan Pascoe battling it out for British honours, Birrell joined 26-year-old Rickham, an environmental scientist who works for BP Sunbury, in the two-person SKUD which will make its Paralympic debut on the waters of Qingdao this summer.
Elsewhere at the St Petersburg event, which came to a close on Sunday (2 March), Britain’s Sonar crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas finished fourth, with SKUD sailors Allan Smith and Jackie Gay concluding their regatta in sixth place.
British sailing’s Paralympic hopefuls are expected to learn later this month whether or not they’ve been officially selected for the Games.