Photos: Robert Wilson

British paralympic selections

Sonar and Skud crews chosen

Monday August 8th 2011, Author: David Fraser, Location: United Kingdom

With just over a year to go to the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games, the British Paralympic Association today announced the selection of the first athletes who will compete for Great Britain at London 2012.

The athletes are the first named members of the British team to achieve selection and are the first athletes to be officially selected for either ParalympicsGB or Team GB.

The five athletes who will compete in the British team in sailing are:

John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas – Sonar (three-person keelboat event)
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell – SKUD 18 (two-person keelboat event)

Stephen Park, Olympic Manager at the Royal Yachting Association, said: “Over the past three years we’ve been trying hard to move our sailors forward from being medal possibles to medal probables, These two selected teams have managed to deliver consistent medal-winning performances that gave the RYA’s Paralympic Selection Committee great confidence in their early nomination.

“From a team management perspective, early nomination now allows the sailors to optimise their programme over the next 12 months such that the goal of winning medals at the London 2012 Games is not compromised by any of the expectations, restrictions or commitments that exist through the selection process.”

Chief Executive of the BPA, Tim Hollingsworth, said: “This is a very exciting moment in the build-up to London: the selection of the first athletes who will represent this country in 2012 really brings it home that the Games are just around the corner.

“I am delighted that the first athletes to achieve this honour are being selected to ParalympicsGB. They have worked very hard over many years to achieve this and I hope the nation will join me in congratulating them now and supporting them in a year’s time on the water at Weymouth and Portland.”

Penny Briscoe, Performance Director at the BPA, said: “It is a great privilege for me to be here in Weymouth and Portland today to congratulate personally these athletes on their selection.

“Their recent results at the World Championships, in which Niki and Alex won their third successive World title and John, Hannah and Stephen won World silver, are not only testament to their hard work and ambition but are also a credit to the world-class performance environment that the RYA has in place to support their Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Make no mistake, these athletes have done just as much to earn their place as the Olympic sailors are doing right now to achieve theirs.”

Commenting on their selection, the athletes said:

Alexandra Rickham:
“It’s great to be selected, we’re really very happy and excited and looking forward to next year and putting in the hard work to try and ensure we get a medal this time around.

“The hard work is just about beginning – I’d say that everyone ramps up their campaigns and their preparations towards the big event, so we’ll be pushing harder than ever.

“A medal at London 2012 would make up for everything that happened in Beijing, and more! It was a big decision for Niki and I as to whether would continue after Beijing – we’d had such a short lead up to Beijing that we didn’t really owe each other anything. But there was unfinished business, so we did carry on, and we’re both determined to learn the lessons from before and perform at our home Games.

“Our recent World Championship win at Weymouth and Portland has definitely given us confidence for next year – not only for ourselves, but it was also important for the other teams to see we could lay it down at our home venue after a string of silvers at the Sail for Gold Regatta. We showed at the right time at a major event that we could pull it out the bag and prove to the other teams that we can do it in the Games venue.”

Niki Birrell:
“I’m personally delighted to have been given another chance at winning a Paralympic medal by the selectors . Ever since the last race in China we’ve been doing all we can to win a medal in 2012 – preferably a gold one – and selection now helps us focus our efforts towards doing that. It’s a fantastic feeling, but the hard work hasn’t even started yet. We’re desperate to bring home a medal for the team.

“It’s fantastic to have won the Worlds at the Games venue, but we always have to move forwards. We can’t be sitting around and getting fat waiting for 12 month’s time! Our rivals will be doing to their best to catch us so we’re going to have to work hard to stay on top.

“It would mean everything to me to win gold next year. I’ve been sailing since I was nine years old, and full time for the last four years. Winning gold would be fantastic not just for me, but all the people who have helped us along the way. It would be perfect if it happens, but we’ve got 12 months of extensive work and dedication before then.”

John Robertson:
“It’s pretty awesome and we’re chuffed to get selected now, and means we can use the time we have to concentrate on going faster and faster. It’s definitely not job done yet – we’ve got key events next year at the Worlds, Miami OCR and the Hyeres regatta to use to get better at so that when it comes to the Games we’re in great shape.

“We’re in a much better place coming into these this Games that at the previous two, and it’s amazing how much we can see that we’ve moved forwards.

“We were disappointed to win silver at the Worlds this year, missing out in the protest room, but it’s down to us to get keep putting the work in to get faster so that we do enough on the water and avoid being in the situation where that can happen in 12 month’s time.

“After two Games of trying, it would be amazing to finally win a Paralympic gold at a home Games. It would be the icing on the cake and pretty special, but we need to keep the focus until then.”

Stephen Thomas
“It’s fantastic to be representing Great Britain for another Games and it’s great to be selected early. We’ll enjoy the moment, but for us, it’s all part of the process and our big focus needs to be on making the boat go faster over the 12 months.

“We’ve not yet won a Paralympic medal and for the last few years we’ve not managed to win a gold at the World Championships, so we’ll have that in the locker and will be using that as motivation to strive for gold next year.

“When I think about the possibility of winning a medal at next year’s Games and the thought of standing on the podium, it brings a tear to my eye. For it to have that kind of emotional response just shows how much it means to me, and that’s why we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got to try and make that a dream a reality next year.”

Hannah Stodel
“It’s weird in some ways as we never expected to be selected this early – and it’s crazy to think that we’re the first athletes to be officially selected for 2012! It’s great that the selectors have that much faith in us – we now have to look forward to the next 12 months and carrying on the hard work we’ve been putting in.

“We’ll have our new boat ready soon – she’s called Mandeville, through kind permission of LOCOG – so we’ll be spending the autumn and winter getting to grips with her and getting her ready.

“It would be a dream come true to win a medal in London 2012, it’s what we’ve been working towards for so long. We’ve been to two Games before and I don’t want any more free t-shirts – I want a medal this time!”

The athletes will continue their preparations for London over the coming months.

Selection trials for the 2.4mR one-person keelboat event are ongoing.

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