Alex Rickham had plenty of reasons to smile on her 27th birthday as she and helm Niki Birrell picked up their first race win of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Regatta in Qingdao Thursday 11 September, day four of the regatta.
With just one of today’s three scheduled races sailed due to a lack of wind, birthday girl Rickham and Birrell, racing in the SKUD-18 two-person keelboat, overcame a poor start when racing did eventually get underway after a three-hour delay to hold their nerve in a tense sprint for the line to take the sole race victory.
The result elevated the duo to fourth in the overall standings on 23 points, 10 points off the podium places but with five races still scheduled to take place before Saturday’s medal ceremonies. Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon Tucker (USA) consolidated their lead in the fleet, sitting on seven points.
A buoyed Birrell said: 'I spotted a special line of wind on the left-hand side of the course immediately off the start and although we didn’t start well that gave us a massive lift, got us straight back into the race and we rounded the first mark in first. It was another very tricky race but we’re looking forward to the rest of the regatta.' Following their indifferent start to the event in the opening two days of racing this week, the British sailors took advantage of yesterday’s lay day to get some important fine tuning under their belts.
And RYA Olympic Team Manager Stephen Park felt there was a noticeably rejuvenated mindset among the sailors as they sat waiting for the wind to fill in and racing to commence today.
'We spent the whole day with everyone on the water yesterday,' he said. 'We ran a whole pile of races to get them into a more positive frame of mind and then we took them out for dinner last night to get them out of the Olympic Village and keep them relaxed.
'We were confident there was going to be some wind today it was just a case of how much and how long it would last and our sailors were chomping at the bit to get out there. Within five minutes of the flag coming down they were all ready to go.' Helena Lucas in the 2.4mR one-person keelboat was unlucky not to pick up her second third placing of the regatta, when she was pipped on the line by Germany’s Heiko Kroger and forced to settle for fourth.
The 2006 World silver medallist got away from the start well but a big wind shift immediately afterwards saw her forced to tack behind the rest of the fleet before she eked her way back through the field to end the day in seventh place overall on 26 points, eight points off bronze medal position. John Ruf (USA) has taken over at the top of the pile on 17 points. Also suffering an unfortunate break with the wind was the British Sonar three-person keelboat crew of John Robertson, Stephen Thomas and Hannah Stodel.
Sat in third place with 100m of the race remaining, Robertson’s team found themselves stranded as they lost the breeze seeing a number of boats pass them en route to the line and having to settle for a seventh place.
They also lie seventh overall on 30 points after the six completed races, 11 points behind the German team currently in third. French trio Bruno Jourdren, Herve Larhant and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary continue to lead on nine points.
The Paralympic Regatta is scheduled to consist of an 11 races series for each of the three classes - when nine races have been completed, sailors can discard a second score from their series. Three races are scheduled to take place for all classes Friday, with racing due to commence at 12:00 local time (05:00 British time).
Unlike the Olympic Regatta, there is no double points’ medal race sailed on the last day of the regatta rather the sailor(s) finishing on the lowest number of points at the end of the series wins the gold medal. The series is now scheduled to conclude with races 10 and 11 on Saturday.
Park added: 'The race committee seems determined to get the five remaining races in so there really is an awful lot still left to play for. We remain optimistic that if we get enough wind to get all five of those races in we can still be pressing for podium finishes.'