RYA Olympic team manager Stephen Park believes Team GB's Paralympic sailors will be on the podium
Stephen Park, RYA Olympic team manager, is backing Team GB’s sailors to forget about the disappointment in China and claim Britain’s first ever full Paralympic sailing medal at the London 2012 Games.
Helena Lucas (2.4 Metre one-person keelboat), Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (SKUD two-person keelboat) and John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (Sonar three-person keelboat, all pictured) make up the six-strong team – the same six sailors who represented Britain at Beijing four years ago.
In 2008 the crews had high hopes of winning medals. In the run-up they had won major titles, including World Championships, but it was not to be in China.
Stephen Park explained: “The sailors came back after Beijing really quite disappointed they hadn’t managed to come home with a medal. When we came back, everyone sat down and said ‘This is just not good enough’, both from a sailors’ perspective, let alone a World Class programme and RYA perspective.
“Immediately we set out on that four-year journey to try to re-establish what was required at the Paralympics and particularly that is about performing under pressure.
“The sailors have done a huge amount of work with the coaches and support staff over the last four years to put themselves in a stronger position where they feel more confident with what they are going to have to deal with at London 2012.
“One of the things with Paralympic sailing is you tend to have smaller fleets than at the Olympics and you don’t have a double-points medal race, so you need to come fairly quickly out of the blocks and get some good results on the board.
“You can’t afford to have any high scores and hope it all evens out over the course of the week because there could be one or two performers who are performing so far ahead of the rest of the field that they never have a bad day and you can never catch up.”
Between them, Britain’s sailors have won nine World Championship medals since 2008 – Rickham and Birrell clinched four world titles in the SKUD. On the final day of racing at the ISAF World Cup event for Paralympic classes in Weymouth and Portland (June 2012), the British Team won two gold and one silver medal.
“The way we look at it is our Paralympic sailors have got special needs, our Olympic sailors have all got special needs; the only difference is the needs are different,” continued Park.
“Our point is sailing is a sport for all, a sport for life and the fact some people have got some disability is a side aspect to the performance itself. We regard them all as elite athletes, that is what they are, and we therefore provide them with the same level of service and we expect the same level of sacrifice, commitment and dedication from our Paralympic sailors as we do our Olympic sailors.”
The first Paralympic sailing demonstration event took place at Atlanta 1996 in the Sonar three-person keelboat (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 programme at Sydney 2000.
The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta runs from Saturday 1 September to Thursday 6 September.
Each class completes a series of 11 races. The sailors accrue points depending on where they finish in a race (ie: 1st = 1 point, etc). The boat with the lowest overall score at the end of the series wins gold.
Two races per day are scheduled for each class from 1 to 5 September, with one race for each class on the final day (6 September). Racing is scheduled to start at 11:00 daily.