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Para Sailing Worlds– British defending champions off to perfect start

by RYA on 24 May 2016
Defending Sonar World Champions John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas - 2016 Para World Sailing Championships Sailing Energy
Defending champions John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas got their world title defence off to the perfect start, picking up two race wins on the first day of competition at the Para World Sailing Championships in the Netherlands (24-28 May).

The British Sailing Team Sonar trio mastered breezy conditions on the Ijsselmeer at Medemblik to take an early overall lead at the five day regatta, with Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell also grabbing hold of the yellow jerseys at the first opportunity in the two-person SKUD fleet.

A strong northerly 15-22 knot breeze brought with it some cold conditions to challenge the three Paralympic classes, but Robertson, Stodel and Thomas enjoyed the physical Sonar racing, crossing the finish line first in both races, and with a substantial 49 second lead in the second.

“It was breezy and shifty with big ranges in breeze as well so you had to use a lot of technique, a lot of trimming, and comms were up right around the race track for the whole day,” said Thomas.

“It was really good, and those are the kind of conditions we favour the most.”

“The fleet is super competitive, but the usual top suspects were up there today – us, the Australians, the Norwegians, the French. We were all battling it out from the start,” the Welshman added.

“Obviously it would be nice to come away with a win but predominantly it’s about looking at form for the Games. That’s where we want to be peaking,” he continued, as the team builds towards what they hope will be their first Paralympic medal this September.

“We want to be ticking off some of the racecraft we’ve been doing at the last couple of events, and some of the kit selections as well.”

Craig Wood, Steve Palmer and Liam Cattermole are in 11th place after their first two races.

In the SKUD class, five-time World Champions and 2012 bronze medallists Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell could be satisfied with a solid opening day, taking an early overall lead after their opening two races.

“It’s always nice on the first day to not throw in any absolute shockers – we managed to do that with both our results in the top three, so that was good,” Birrell explained.

“Me and Alexandra seem to be going quite well in the breeze at the moment, we seem to have a nice set up. It was a little but chilly – absolutely freezing actually, but it was nice to finish with a one and we’re in good shape.”

Rickham and Birrell picked up a third in their opening race of the day and followed it up with a race win to sit ahead of the Polish crew, and the Australian defending champions and 2012 gold medallists after two of ten races.

“The races were quite tight today, the Poles were leading a couple of them,” Birrell explained. “We had a nice little battle with the Aussies and the Poles in the first one, just got the wrong side of that unfortunately. In the second one there were three boats out clear again but we managed to get the right side of it on the second race which was good.”

Birrell admits he has eyes on a sixth world title this week, but is ultimately focussing on the bigger picture of Rio gold.

“There’s four days left to go so a lot can happen but there are two aims of the week really. The first is to try and win, and the second is to work out anything that we need to be better at before Rio.

“That’s more important at this stage to know what we need to work on.”

In the one-person 2.4mR fleet, Open World Champion Megan Pascoe is the leading British sailor after a steady first day, placing in sixth overall, with Helena Lucas hampered by equipment issues on her opening day to sit in eighth place. Podium Potential talents Carol Dugdale, Will Street and John Brooker are in 10th, 11th and 15th places respectively.

Racing at the Para World Sailing Championships runs through until Saturday 28 May, with two races scheduled per day for each of the three classes.

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