Gold for Helena Lucas
Britain has won its first ever medals since sailing joined the full Paralympic Games programme at Sydney 2000 (previously Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis and Tony Downs won Gold in the Sonar when the first Paralympic sailing event took place as a demonstration event at Atlanta 1996).At the London 2012 Paralympic Games today Helena Lucas, won gold in the 2.4 Metre one-person keelboat - the only woman in the fleet – while Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell took bronze in the Skud two-person keelboat.
However, there was both controversy and disappointment for the British Sonar three-person keelboat crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas who have not given up hope of being awarded a bronze medal as they continue to explore their options to appeal a four-point penalty that has denied them Paralympic silverware today.
All three teams were still in the hunt for medals heading into the final day of racing. Lucas was sat in first overall, already assured of at least silver, with a nine-point cushion over Heiko Kroger (GER) in second and with the Netherland's Thierry Schmitter third. Rickham and Birrell were guaranteed bronze but were sailing for silver, sitting two points behind the Americans in second.
Despite their points’ deduction relegating them to fifth, the Sonars, who were in third overall before the penalty was imposed, could also still have landed a silver or bronze medal as just eight points separated the boats in second to seventh places.
However, a lack of breeze in Portland Harbour scuppered any of the final races from taking place meaning that the overnight results stood.
Lucas said: “This is the dream, this is definitely the dream! It’s absolutely fantastic to have achieved it, I’m just really, really pleased. One of the key things all week was to try to stay out of the protest room, keep it simple, keep it clean and try not to get any disqualifications or false starts.
“I’ve got a great team behind me, the GB sailing support team is fantastic and make sure we go out on the water properly prepared, mentally and physically, and that no stone has been left unturned. Obviously my coach too, we’ve had a great week on the water and it’s been a great team effort out there. It’s fantastic.”
Rickham said: “Clearly I am going to be a bit disappointed and gutted by how things have gone this week. But I didn’t want to go back to London to see the rest of the ParalympicsGB team without a medal as last time we went back to Beijing from Qingdao as one of the only ones without a medal because the team did so well.
“It’s nice to just get a medal for Paralympic sailing in Britain because the fact is that we haven’t done the job for the last few Games so we’re just proud to be part of that contingent that has managed to break the duck.”
Birrell added: “The way I always talk about this stuff with my Dad is that there are three tiers; there’s no medal, there’s a gold medal and a medal. So we would have obviously have preferred a silver but at least we’re taking something back. Even if we would have come second we wouldn’t have won so it wouldn’t have been that much better. Everyone did so well in Beijing and we contributed nothing, it was horrible, so this time it was absolutely essential that we got a bronze.”
Gold in the Skud 18 went to Australia's Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch. The Aussies were the team to beat all week, wrapping up their gold medal with a day to spare with four race wins, five seconds and a third from the regatta’s 10 races, giving them victory over their American opponents by six points.
For skipper Fitzgibbon his London gold was his second Paralympic Games medal, having won silver at Beijing 2008.
Tesch finally won that elusive gold medal after coming so close before in wheelchair basketball. London 2012 was Tesch’s sixth straight Paralympic Games, having previously won silver and bronze medals with Australia’s wheelchair basketball team.
The pair teamed up at the beginning of 2011 and were on the pace from their first event, winning the ISAF Sailing World Cup round in Miami and going on to finish on the podium in every regatta they contested.
There was extra cause for celebration for the Australian team on Thursday night after Daniel Fitzgibbon announced his engagement to Kumi Sasaki at the team dinner.
For the British Sonar team a protest by the jury against them yesterday, for a minor off the water incident between an event technical officer and a member of the team support staff, saw a four point discretionary penalty imposed. Having spent much of last night and today trying to challenge the ruling, British Sailing Team officials are examining what avenues of appeal they have to contest the jury’s decision post-event.
Stephen Park, RYA Olympic Manager, said: “We are trying to get the hearing reopened because we think there were some significant errors by the jury and some errors in the way they have interpreted the rules.
“When you get to any situation where the athletes scorecard is being altered through a misunderstanding between two shore staff, one of which is a technical official and one of which is a team support staff, about something that doesn’t have any impact on performance it is a sad day for the sport.
“We think that frankly, irrespective of the outcome, we need to make sure that this is rectified for the future. Obviously in the process we will be doing everything we can to get the hearing addressed appropriately and get John, Hannah and Steve the bronze medal that they deserve before the jury decision took it away from them.”
Gold in the Sonar went to the Netherlands' Udo Hessels, Marcel van de Veen and Mischa Rossen, who dominated the racing, finishing 20 points ahead of the German team of Jens Kroker, Siegmund Mainka and Robert Prem with Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Marie Solberg and Per Eugen Kristiansen taking the bronze for Norway.