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Helena Lucas back into first place

As Rickham and Birrell hold silver in the Skuds in the London 2012 Paralympic sailing

Monday September 3rd 2012, Author: Kate Holmes, Location: United Kingdom

Two race wins have propelled Helena Lucas back into gold medal position in the 2.4mR class at the halfway point of the London 2012 Paralympic Regatta at Weymouth and Portland today.

Lucas now holds a nine-point lead over nearest rival Heiko Kroger (GER) as her back-to-back race victories, coupled with the fact that the sailors have now completed five races and can eliminate their worst score of the series, saw her manoeuvre into pole position at the head of the fleet with five races to come.

After a two-hour postponement waiting for the breeze to arrive in Portland Harbour, triple World Championship medallist Lucas made the most of the light breezes in the harbour today.

But she insists she had a valuable lesson in taking nothing for granted reinforced at this summer’s Olympics when the Star team of Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson saw a gold medal – and a seven-point lead – disappear in a crushing final race flash.

Lucas said: “I couldn’t have asked for more than that today, I’m just really, really pleased. But I’m absolutely not thinking about where that has left me. I’ve managed to get a nine point lead having done six races so with five races to go it would be quite easy to lose that nine point lead. I’m certainly not getting carried away.

“You look at what happened to Perce and Bart at the Olympics, when they led the whole regatta. Anything can happen. You can easily have a bad day or something goes wrong. It is great to have a bit of a cushion at the moment but I’m fully aware that that can get eroded very quickly.”

Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell insist consistency will be key as they sit just a point off gold in silver medal position as the event enters the business end. They picked up a race win and a solid third in the light conditions to put themselves a point behind the Australian leaders, Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, and with a point advantage over the Americans, Jen French and J-P Creignou.

The Brits, who have won the last four World Championships, have prided themselves on their consistency across all conditions in recent years, something that definitely helped today, as light fluky breeze provided the sailors with the double test of keeping the boat going fast while contending with big swings in wind direction.

Rickham said: “Over the last couple of years consistency has been our strength so we like regattas where we get a mix of conditions because where other boats may excel in certain conditions we try to keep it going steadily in all of them. We enjoy a bit of a play in light winds and it served us well today.”

Birrell added: “A lot can go right and wrong but it’s vital that we stay within a point of the leaders because we don’t want to be starting Thursday any more than a point behind, we need to keep it in our own hands until then and if we can do that we will be happy. We have done four years of continuous hard work so we are not going to change anything now. There is a lot of concentration needed but winning is definitely possible and while it is possible I’ll still have a smile on my face.”

The British Sonar team insist it is “Game on!” as they sit just four points outside the medal zone at the halfway point despite a tricky day three on the water.

John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas started the day confidently with a solid fourth place but admit they did not meet their own high standards in the second race of today, coming 13th.

With the discard kicking in after the first race of today, the Sonars do not currently count that 13th. With everyone bar the Dutch leaders seemingly struggling for consistency in the opening half of the event, the Brits are certainly not about to start panicking about sitting seventh overall at this stage.

Thomas said: “We are only halfway through the regatta and if you look at the last two day’s results they are all over the place with everyone up and down so it’s just all about keeping sane, keeping logical and keeping on fighting. Our boat speed is good, we are starting well, we just need a break or two and we will be there.”

Stodel said: ““It was an average day today but we are certainly close on the points, with only seven points between silver and seventh, which is mental! We have still got everything to play for, seven points isn’t a lot when you look at what happened today. Game on!”

Robertson added: “It’s tough; it’s a Paralympic Games so it’s not going to be easy. We always try our best but it is hard work and we will keep working hard. The Dutch boat could have two 12ths tomorrow then we could be right back in the mix for gold.”

The first Paralympic sailing event took place as demonstration sport at Atlanta 1996 in the Sonar boat (plus reserve). The British crew of Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis, Tony Downs and Ian Harrison won gold. But a Paralympic medal has eluded Britain since sailing joined the full Paralympic Games programme at Sydney 2000.

The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta until Thursday 6 September.


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