IFDS Worlds 2011. Liesl Tesch has won three Paralympic medals at five previous Games in wheelchair basketball. Now having switched to sailing, Tesch is hoping for success at the IFDS Worlds which will help her on her way to winning the elusive Paralympic gold.
Australian SKUD crew Liesl Tesch hopes she and Dan Fitzgibbon’s performance at the IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 this week will help towards her completing a unique Paralympic medal set, having already won three Paralympic medals in wheelchair basketball!
The 42-year-old high school teacher from New South Wales, and helmsman Fitzgibbon moved to within two points of overnight leaders, Britain’s Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell on day two of the IFDS Worlds at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, atoning for a disappointing day one display yesterday with two race wins today (Monday 4 July).
Tesch only started Paralympic sailing in January, having made her name in her home country as part of the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team that won Paralympic silver medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 and bronze at Beijing 2008. But since taking up sailing and teaming up with Fitzgibbon earlier this year, the pair have won the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, in their first ever event together, as well as Skandia Sail for Gold last month.
Now Tesch, who also competed at Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996, has just one ambition; to win the Paralympic gold that’s missing from her collection. She hopes a switch in sport and a medal at the IFDS Worlds this week will go a long way to helping her cause.
Tesch said: 'I want that gold now next year; everything in sailing’s happened so fast. Because of the wheelchair basketball I know what performance sport is all about so now I’m just trying to put that experience to use in sailing.
I’m still getting used to what to wear on the water though! Yesterday was rubbish; we don’t have much light stuff at home so today we decided to race our own race instead of playing games with the others, get some clean air, and it worked well. The boat felt like it was going properly!'
Defending champions Rickham and Birrell got off to a perfect start yesterday, with two wins. But during the first race of today, their spinnaker sheet got caught round the spinnaker pole hindering their ability to hoist their kite downwind.
Tesch added: 'I was telling Dan ‘Something’s gone wrong with Niki’s spinnaker!’ That couldn’t have really happened better for us after our big points drop yesterday but tomorrow’s another day and we have to take each race as it comes.'
Despite the spinnaker issue seeing them post an eighth in that race, the Brits recovered to finish second in the second race of the day to maintain their overall lead. Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett (USA), who have won silver at the last two Worlds, lay third.
Defending World 2.4mR champion, Thierry Schmitter (NED), also put a disappointing day one behind him to win both day two races and move to the top of the single-handed keelboat class leaderboard.
Schmitter said: 'I’m happier than yesterday; there was a little bit more wind so I was clear in my head what I had to do tactically and strategically. To be back in the race for the title I had to really be in the top three today so I worked hard for it. The game is starting now. I’m first but it really is the minimum difference in points and now the battle really starts. I’m back on track and I start with a fresh mind tomorrow.'
Overnight leader Helena Lucas picked up a second in the opening race of the day but followed that with a 10th enabling three sailors to leapfrog her. The USA’s Mark LeBlanc holds firm in second overall with Lucas’ Skandia Team GBR teammate Megan Pascoe in third.
The race for the Sonar title is panning out exactly as anticipated with the top eight boats engaged in a ding-dong battle for supremacy. Skandia Team GBR’s John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas built on a moderate but hard-fought opening day with a fifth and first today, propelling them to the top of the standings.
A right of way dispute during the pre-start saw Bruno Jourdren, Eric Flageul and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary, who had been laying second overall, disqualified from race four meaning Athens 2004 Paralympic champions Dror Cohen, Benni Vexler and Arnon Efrati (ISR) moved up to the silver medal spot with overnight leaders, and reigning World champions, Udo Hessels, Marcel Van De Veen and Mischa Rossen (NED), placed third.
Jourdren and crew dropped to 10th overall before the discard comes into play after the next race (race five).
Stodel said: 'To lead the second race from start to finish today was a high point. It wasn’t the best start yesterday but it wasn’t the worst start and I think this is going to be a regatta where consistency is going to matter. The fleet is so competitive; there are seven to 10 boats who could potentially win medals, it is so close it is always going to chop and change like it has done over the first two days so consistency is what is going to count here.
With the forecast predicting building breezes as the week goes on, Stodel also hopes that will work in the Brits’ favour, adding: 'We’re looking forward to a bit of breeze. During Sail for Gold it became pretty clear that fitness played a key part and as a team, we’re one of the fittest around so I think that will help us towards the end of the week.'
There were celebrations also for the USA team who marked American Independence Day in style with a team BBQ and mini-party at team HQ.
The IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 are being organised, and run, by the RYA, supported by UK Sport. Eleven races are scheduled in total for each class (two races per day Sunday-Thursday and one race on Friday 8 July). Racing is set to resume at 10.55am tomorrow.
IFDS Worlds website