Gold and bronze for British disabled sailors

Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell claim first ever SKUD title at the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships

Monday October 19th 2009, Author: Ellie Williamson, Location: United Kingdom
British sailors picked up two medals from three classes at the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships in Athens on Sunday - including a first ever world title for the SKUD duo of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell.

Rickham, 28, and 23-year-old Birrell, who finished fifth at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, sailed a consistent series across the four days of competition to see them clinch five race wins from the nine races held, and seal victory by three points over USA rivals Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett.

The American pair got the better of the Skandia Team GBR duo on their home waters at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta in Weymouth and Portland last month, and Epsom’s Rickham was determined not to settle for silver this time around.

“Since I’ve been helming, we’ve only beaten the American team once, and it’s fantastic to have done that at the Worlds,” she explained.

Having previously crewed the SKUD, Rickham took over helming duties from Birrell at the beginning of 2009. “We knew we would have a lot of work to do this year because of the role reversal, but all of the hard work has paid off and today is the culmination of all of that,” Rickham continued.

“Niki and I put together a good series – we made a few mistakes, but mostly we were pretty solid throughout and we’re just so happy to have finally got a good result when it counts. We’re over the moon but knackered!”

“We owe big thanks to the whole team, who’ve been really supportive and kept us in good spirits this week, but also to our coach Ian Barker,” Birrell added, paying tribute to the 2000 Sydney silver medal-winning 49er sailor, who started working with the SKUD pair this year.

“He’s been a massive help, both from a practical point of view, but has also helped us take our campaign to the next level.

Birrell continued: “I’m sure he’d be the first person to say we’re nowhere near the finished article and there’s lots we need to work on between now and 2012, but for now we’re really happy and this win means an awful lot to us after the hard work we’ve put in this year.”

Skandia Team GBR’s second medal of the Championships came via Helena Lucas, with bronze in the 2.4mR single-handed class.

It’s the first IFDS Worlds medal for Lucas in three years, with the Southampton-based sailor “relieved” to have made the podium.

“It was a pretty tough week,” explained Lucas, who held on with 3,6 from her final two races on Sunday to beat the Norwegian sailor Bjornar Erikstad to bronze by a two-point margin.

“We had two races today where the wind was all over the place – it was really shifty and really patchy, and we had some pretty close racing. I think my coach Adam [May] is a bit balder after today!

“But I hung in there and did what I needed to do, and I’m really pleased that I managed to pull it off.

ISAF Sailing World Cup winner Megan Pascoe ended her Worlds campaign in fifth, just four points off of her teammate in the bronze medal position.

“I’d have preferred a podium spot obviously, but it’s my best Worlds result since 2005, so I’m getting back up there and I sailed pretty consistently all week,” Pascoe explained.

“I’m just happy that I sailed solidly and didn’t have any real shockers. We’ve now got a quick turnaround before heading off to USA for the 2.4mR Open Worlds which looks like it’ll have a good fleet and some more good racing.”

In the three-person Sonar event, there was disappointment for Skandia Team GBR’s crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, who leave Athens outside of the podium spots in seventh overall after a difficult week.

After a difficult start to their regatta , the two-time World Champions saw their fortunes improve in the latter half of the event, but it was not enough to boost them into the podium spots.

Skandia Team GBR’s Sonar coach Mark Rushall surmised: “The guys are disappointed, but it’s better to establish the areas to improve on now, rather than in three years’ time.

“It’s been a really difficult week, lots of waiting around and some really difficult sailing conditions which have made it hard for anyone to be consistently at the front.

“It’s been all about trying to keep your head in amongst all that, and those who have done that best have come out on top.”

RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park was out in Athens for the event, and commented: “It’s great to have won two medals and certainly if we were to get that result at the Paralympics we’d be delighted.

“It was a great performance by Alexandra and Niki, and fantastic for them to have won their first World Championship title – especially after all the changes their campaign has gone through this year. Hopefully it will have given them confidence going forward.

“It was pleasing also to see Helena back in the medals, and Megan not so far behind. They’re both capable of beating the leading two guys from Holland and Germany on their day, but there’s still a bit to be done if they’re to beat them consistently.

“John, Hannah and Steve had a disappointing week in the Sonar fleet,” Park continued.

“We came to this regatta expecting them to be on the podium, but they missed out by some margin so we’ll need to do some re-evaluation of their programme to get them on track and delivering at the big events.”

Skandia Team GBR squad for the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships:
Name Born Place of Birth Lives

Niki Birrell 16/08/86 Manchester Knutsford
Alexandra Rickham 11/09/1981 Kingston, Jamaica Epsom, Surrey

Megan Pascoe 29/11/1986 Shoreham-by-Sea Portland, Dorset
Helena Lucas 29/04/1975 Redhill, Surrey Southampton

John Robertson 11/02/1972 Sunderland Sunderland
Hannah Stodel 27/08/1985 Colchester West Mersea
Stephen Thomas 05/01/1977 Bridgend Cardiff

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