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Park backs sailors for Britain’s best Rio Paralympic medal haul

by RYA on 8 Sep 2016
British Paralympic sailors British Sailing Team
British Sailing Team manager, Stephen Park, believes Britain will be competing for medals in all three Paralympic sailing events after the Rio 2016 Games were officially opened last night (Wednesday 7 September).

The Brits marked the start of the 15th summer Paralympic Games with a private team dinner as thousands of spectators and athletes packed into Rio’s iconic Maracanã Stadium to enjoy the colour and endeavour celebrated in the Opening Ceremony.

Six British sailors across three Paralympic classes begin their bid to achieve ParalympicsGB’s best ever sailing medal return when the Rio 2016 regatta gets underway in Guanabara Bay on Monday (12 September).

Britain’s sailors won the country’s first medals since sailing became a full Paralympic sport in 2000 at London 2012, when Helena Lucas claimed gold in the one-person 2.4mR class and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell took two-person SKUD bronze.

With Lucas, Rickham and Birrell attending their third Games and the Sonar crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas their fourth, Park thinks the team’s combined experience can be a decisive factor in mastering the tricky Rio racetracks and converting that into medals for ParalympicsGB.

He said: “The British sailors are in a very good place and there’s no doubt that we will be competing for the medals in all three events. Our teams all have a track record that shows they are not only capable but are amongst the form boats to be fighting it out for the gold medals.

“For the SKUD and Sonars there is unfinished business and a desperation to win those Paralympic gold medals they think have eluded them, while Helena is very keen to be the first Paralympic sailor to defend the gold medal in the 2.4mR class.

“The venue is going to be difficult, it is going to be tricky. Experience, I think, is really going to make a difference this time around and hopefully it will allow the sailors to be a little more calm and logical, rather than emotional, in their actions.”

Rio is set to be sailing’s last Paralympic showing for at least eight years, as it is not currently in the Paralympic programme for Tokyo 2020.

Park insists this is a “great loss” for the Paralympic movement and cites the sport’s ability to act as a leveler of all abilities and disabilities, and provide equal competition on a level playing field, as one of sailing’s biggest appeals. Paralympic sailing has also required female participation, increasing its inclusivity, while the mix of cognitive and physical skills sailing promotes also provides unique opportunities.

Moves are already underway to get sailing re-instated for the 2024 Paralympics, and Park added: “Sailing is a sport for all. I’m very much hoping that World Sailing will be able to put together a very strong case to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to see sailing included in the Paralympic programme for 2024.

“If those discussions go well over the next couple of years then maybe the IPC will look to bring sailing back into Tokyo 2020 as a demonstration sport. Never say never.

“Sailors and governing bodies around the world have invested so much in supporting the Paralympic programme and giving athletes with disabilities some fantastic opportunities and they are currently seeing their dreams being shattered. It would be great to see them following the quest of a Paralympic gold medal again.”

All three classes are scheduled to contest an 11 race series each, with two races per day from Monday 12 – Friday 16 September before one final series race for each class, after which the medals will be awarded, on Saturday 17 September.
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