Strong start for Team GBR paralympic sailors
Paralympics GB’s sailors made promising starts to their quests to claim Britain’s first ever full Paralympic sailing silverware on day one of the London 2012 Regatta at Weymouth and Portland.
Helena Lucas led the way in the 2.4mR one-person keelboat event, second and first places putting her in pole position overall, four points clear of Thierry Schmitter (NED) in second.
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell also picked up a second spot then a race win and to sit atop the Skud two-person keelboat leaderboard overnight but tied on the same points as nearest rivals, the Australian duo Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch.
But despite the positive start no-one is going to start getting carried away with nine races still to come.
Lucas said: “It’s a solid start to the first day. It’s always good to get the regatta off to a good start. It was really close racing. The second race proved you could be fourth or first, literally within the last few metres of the line I could have been fourth in that race. The racing is going to be tight and there will be days when you get that lucky wave, and you cruise through, and there will be days when you’re a little bit unlucky.
“I know I’m quick downwind so I was quietly confident that if I sailed really well I definitely had an opportunity to take a few places. I wasn’t quite expecting to cruise into first but I definitely knew there were some places to be had. But there is a hell of a long way to go yet, we’ve only done two races!”
Birrell and Rickham had had to battle back from dropping 30 seconds behind the Aussies in the opening race only to then see themselves get caught just before the line and finish in second in race one. But a composed show in race two ensured the Brits ended the day with exactly the same scores as Fitzgibbon and Tesch.
Rickham said: “We feel good but it is only day one so we don’t read anything into it at all. It’s where we wanted to be. The first race was a bit difficult, to take the loss on the line. Clearly it’s going to be a bit of a battle with the Australians as it stands at the moment. We’re just looking forward to the rest of the regatta and taking each day as it comes. Tomorrow we start with a zero score in our heads and try and do it again.”
Birrell said: “We’ve got three points from two races, which is a great start. The boat’s going fast, Alex is sailing well and everything looks good so we’re just excited to go sailing again tomorrow. We let what is going to be one of our key opponents take a point on us in the first race, which was frustrating, but I thought me and Alex bounced back really quickly from that, switched on for what we had to do for race two and won race two, which was what we had to do really at that stage.”
However, there was controversy in the Sonar three-person keelboat class, which led to the British team of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas unsuccessfully seeking redress after claiming they were disadvantaged by a race committee error at the start of race two.
Having picked up a solid fourth in their opening race of the regatta, the Brits were looking for another counting performance in their second race. But as Stodel explains that didn’t quite go to plan.
“At the start of the second race the Australians were quite clearly over the start line. The race committee flew the individual recall flag, which means boats were over the line please come back. The Australians went back, re-crossed the line, came back on to the course but the flag was still up, which meant someone else was still over.
“As we were quite punchy on the start line we thought it was best to play it safe and go back but as we were sailing back they took the flag down so we got a bit of a disadvantage and a late start and were about 30 seconds behind the fleet at that point so had a bit on. We managed to pull back to eighth but it was disappointing not have got it overturned in the protest room but we live to fight another day.”
When added to their opening race fourth, the eighth place left the Sonar trio sitting in sixth overall overnight. But the trio admit they will not dwell on today’s events as they look ahead to the rest of the regatta.
Robertson said: “Potentially redress would have given us average points or time back, and that could make quite a big difference at the end of the week, so we’re fighting for every point where we can. But tomorrow is another day’s racing. Spirits were high today, even when it was at times a bit sketchy, because that’s racing.”
Thomas added: “It’s been a mixed bag of results so obviously we will be looking to improve on that tomorrow. There is a long way to go, there are 11 races and we treat every race the same.”
The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta runs from Saturday 1 September and Thursday 6 September.
Racing is scheduled to resume at 11am tomorrow. Two races are scheduled per day for each class except on the final day when there will be one race.