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Sail for Gold - Trio of medals for GBR Paralympic stars

by Lindsey Bell on 9 Jun 2012
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell, (GBR) racing in the Skud class onEdition
The closing day of competition at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta for the Paralympic classes in Weymouth and Portland saw two gold medals and one silver for Britain’s sailors with their Skandia Team GBR teammates having it all to play for in the Olympic classes in Saturday’s medal race deciders.

All ten Olympic classes and three Paralympic classes were confined to shore on day five of the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, with RYA event organisers taking the decision to call off all racing in Weymouth and Portland with strong winds throughout the day.

The SKUD duo and four time world champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell along with the Sonar team of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas both clinched the gold medal, while Helena Lucas narrowly missed out on a clean swoop for the GBR Paralympic team with a silver in the 2.4mR event.

With Paralympic racing cancelled on the final two days at the 2012 Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta with gusts of up to 40 knots battering the Olympic venue, the GBR boats had their fate decided on the six race series completed in the first three days of the regatta.

Rickham and Birrell have missed out on the Skandia Sail for Gold crown on the past three attempts, to finally clinch the gold medal and their third consecutive ISAF Sailing World Cup title two months prior to the Paralympic Games, Birrell insists it’s the perfect confidence boost.

'It feels fantastic to finish the regatta with a gold medal here in Weymouth and Portland. We came here wanting to win this event and we have done, so that’s great! Obviously we want to win the Paralympics in September so the overall result here wasn’t as important as the Games, buts it’s a great boost to have won.'

'We had a similar situation in Hyeres with a similar forecast at the end of the week and we didn't get to go racing. We were in silver position then and that was very frustrating so when we saw the forecast for the end of this week, me and Alex made it our absolute top priority to be leading by Wednesday night because we thought this might happen.

With Weymouth and Portland offering up light breeze on the opening day of the regatta to gale force winds today, Birrell explains you can never be certain of what the 2012 venue will throw their way.

'You can get anything down here in Weymouth and Portland. People always ask what the normal conditions are – this week we have had everything from 3-4 knots on Monday to it being blown off today with 40 knots so you can always expect the unexpected.'

'The past few years we have always had to settle for silver so to walk away with gold is fantastic. There is still one or two areas of our sailing that were not doing as well as we need to be so we will be working on those for the next ten to eleven weeks. Hopefully we can get these fixed and tidy up on a few areas so we are as strong as we can be for the Paralympics.'

Birrell concluded: 'Britain's never had a medal in Paralympic sailing, there is a bit of pressure but we'll just carry on training, working hard, racing fast and see what's in store.'

In the Sonar fleet, 2012 IFDS Worlds bronze medallists John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, had done enough earlier in the week to secure a hard-fought gold in the three-person Sonar class, finishing two points above the Dutch trio of Hessels-Rossen-Veen.

'I was quite disappointed actually that racing got cancelled, it would've been good to get more practice in before the Games,' said Thomas.

'We had an average start to the regatta but we improved on the second day and we wanted to continue with that through the week. It was a pretty tough competition, all the guys who were competing are going to be here at the Games, it was a strong fleet, everyone sailed well.'

Gold in the 2.4mR event went to the Dutchmen, Thierry Schmitter, with Skandia Team GBR’s Helena Lucas finishing level on points in second after the six-race series.

'I’m obviously happy with the silver medal but at the same time a little frustrated as I was so close to the gold. I was in fourth in the last race on Wednesday which would have given me the gold but at the last minute I was piped over the line when the boat from Norway caught a good wave – it was so close and so frustrating as I kind of knew it was the last race of the regatta. But it’s still good to medal and obviously its September that counts!

'This week has given me the opportunity to test all my kit in pretty much all the wind conditions which is a big tick of the box!' said Lucas.

With today’s racing cancelled, Lucas feels the gold medal would have been achievable if the 2.4mR class were given one more race.

'I would certainly like to have think if we were given one more race I could have gone on to win gold this week – In the strong breeze I’m definitely quick and very quick downwind so hopefully with my speed it could have been a completely different story. However you can’t control the weather unfortunately, so never mind!'

'It’s definitely made me even hungrier for the Paralympics finishing on equal points with the top boat and I have proved that I can do it even though I didn’t sail the best regatta. Knowing that there are still areas that I can still improve on is great. It’s September that really matters so hopefully it will all fall into place for me then,' concluded Lucas.

Meanwhile, Skandia Team GBR Olympic class sailors are in seven medal positions as they enter the double point medal races tomorrow (Saturday 9 June), with a further three crews sitting just outside with it all to play for.

Olympic Champions Iain Percy-Andrew Simpson are in prime position in the Star class, while Giles Scott and Ben Ainslie lead the charge in the Finn fleet sitting first and second respectively. Luke Patience-Stuart Bithell and Alison Young occupy second in their respective fleets, while Nick Dempsey in the RS:X and Dylan Fletcher-Alain Sign in the 49er class reside in third.

In the 470 Women’s class, World Champions Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark will be looking to break back into the podium positions, currently fourth, the same position as Evans-Powys in the 49er while their team-mates Morrison-Rhodes are two places further back in sixth, but still in with a chance of a medal. Olympic Champion Paul Goodison has it all to play for in the Laser just three points off the podium in fifth.

The women’s match racing trio of Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor will compete in their scheduled quarter final bout tomorrow morning against Aussie trio skippered by Olivia Price, with the semi-final and final taking place tomorrow afternoon. In the RS:X Women’s class, Bryony Shaw heads into the medal race in eighth.

Medal race schedule (Saturday 09 June):

08 00 - 1530 – Women’s Match Racing
10 00 – Laser
10 40 – 470 Men
11 20 – Laser Radial
12 00 – 470 Women
12 40 – 49er
13 20 – RS:X Women
13 50 – Star
14 30 – RS:X Men
15 00 – Finn

Racing at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta continues tomorrow (Saturday 9 June) with the medal races for the 10 Olympic Classes.

Skandia Team GBR website
Sail for Gold website

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