Britain's Paralympic sailors came away with two bronze medals in the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Helena Lucas took bronze in the 2.4mR, while Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell came third in the SKUD18 class.
Great Britain has ended the Rio 2016 Paralympic sailing regatta with two bronze medals.
Helena Lucas consolidated her position as Britain’s most successful sailing Paralympian when she took bronze in the 2.4mR one-person keelboat.
She adds to the gold she won at London 2012.
Having headed into Saturday’s race in pole position overall, Lucas’ achievements were tinged with disappointment after she found her progress had been hindered during the race by a plastic bag on her rudder.
France’s Damien Seguin ultimately took gold with Australia’s Matt Bugg claiming silver as Lucas crossed the line in 15th place.
“It was an absolute fight in the mix, I couldn’t break out or break free no matter what I did. I kept thinking I was doing the right thing and getting the shifts right but I didn’t have the speed I’ve had all week because I was towing a bag,” said Lucas.
“I came in to this event with my eyes wide open and I thought there would be six of us in contention for the medals so when everything settles down a bit I will be happy I’m on the podium because it is such a competitive fleet. I’ll let the dust settle and be happy with a medal. I did give it my best,” added Lucas.
Meanwhile, Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell replicated their feat from four years ago in the SKUD18 two-person keelboat class.
Rickham and Birrell said they were elated with their medal after a close-fought battle for silver with the Canadian boat. Australia’s Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch took gold.
“We feel relieved,” said Rickham.
“It was close to being silver but John McRoberts and Jackie Gay (CAN) sailed a fabulous regatta and they really deserved that medal. We’re just elated. It’s great to be able to come away with another medal,” she added.
Birrell continued: “To have two Paralympic medals is just surreal. They don’t come easy and I’d like to thank everyone who has ever helped us in our SKUD programme. Thank you so, so much. We came for gold but we’re super happy with bronze because we’ve had to fight so hard in our boat for every metre and every position.”
Meanwhile, the British Sonar team of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas kept to their vow of ending their Rio campaign on a high, having headed into the final regatta already knowing a medal was beyond their reaches.
The team finished third in the race to end the event ninth overall.
But Robertson admits although disappointed not have secured the Paralympic silverware that has eluded them at their fourth Games, they did have some standout moments to be proud of during the Brazil experience.
“It was good to finish on a high note, it just shows what we can do,” noted Robertson.
“The Wednesday when we got the three bullets was pretty awesome; there was a nice bit of breeze and we really got into,” he continued.
“We sailed the boat well today (17 September) but to be honest we’re just pretty disappointed not to be on the podium and not to get a gold medal. That’s just sport and we weren’t quite good enough this week. Even though we tried our best it didn’t all quite gel at the right time and that happens sometimes,” concluded Robertson.
Britain’s Sonar trio started with a hat-trick of race wins as the breeze finally arrived for the Paralympic sailors in Rio on 14 September.
Having contended with light shifty breezes for the opening two days, breeze gusting up to 23 knots greeted the 2.4mRs and SKUD18s on the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) course, while the Sonars revelled in 12-15 knots on the Escola Naval course.
After a tough start to their event, John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas in the Sonar put their disappointments behind them, leading from start to finish in each of their three races.
Their dominance lifted them to within two points of the medal positions.
They are now sitting in fifth overall, having been 12th going into Wednesday’s racing.
Thomas, however, insists the hard work really begins now for he and his three-time World Champion teammates.
“It’s a long week and we’re only just over halfway through,” noted the Welshman.
“If you look at the scores they’re shifting all over the place so we just need to be there or thereabouts come Saturday and see what happens. If we’re in the medal zone at the end of the week based on the previous two days racing we will be very happy,” he continued.
What looked like it was going to be a brilliant day for the SKUD duo Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell ended up tinged with disappointment.
Having picked up second and first place finishes from their opening two races on Wednesday, they were forced to sit race three out altogether after a problem with their jib sheet.
But with three more of the leading medal contenders also being disqualified or retiring from that same race, the Brits now sit in silver medal position, behind defending champions Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS) who lead.
A pragmatic Rickham insisted such unforeseen events only highlight why Rio is a venue you can never ever give up at.
“It would appear anything could happen in Rio!” she said.
“Potentially it could still all be to play for. We’re going to soldier on as who knows what will happen in the last five races. The Aussies look strong but you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” continued Rickham.
“The retirement was really unfortunate as we had gained some momentum today (14 September) and were really hoping to make it another top two finish for the day. We had really great boat speed across the course, up and downwind,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Helena Lucas managed to hold on to the top spot in the 2.4mR class despite a tough day.
She compared conditions to being in a “washing machine” on the Sugarloaf course.
The London 2012 gold medallist was fourth and third in two races, but disqualified from the middle race in the protest room after the International Jury adjudged that she had infringed Sweden’s Fia Fjelddahl.
Having provisionally finished 10th in that race, the disqualification did not impact on the current overall standings.
But, Lucas is mindful that she now cannot pick up any more big scores if she is going to retain her title from four years ago.
Speaking after racing on Wednesday, she said: “Today was pretty tough, I seemed to spend most of my day doing penalty turns! I feel like I didn’t sail that well so there is a lot to work on, which is in some ways good. I think now it is about minimising mistakes, being more aware, a little bit more switched on. Keep it simple and keep it clean and no more spinning.”
Commenting on the conditions, Lucas said: “I feel like I have been thrown in a washing machine. It was massive chop, not the kind of chop that 2.4mRs particularly like, so it was incredibly wet. I’m actually cold! When are you ever cold in Brazil?”
The finals of all the sailing classes will be held on 18 September.
It took just one hour for Team GB’s Paralympic rowing team to win their impressive medal haul at the Lagoa Stadium in Rio on 11 September.
Rachel Morris, who only switched from hand cycling to rowing in 2013, was the first of the team to secure a gold medal.
She beat China’s Lili Wang and Moran Samuel from Israel, to win the arms-shoulders women’s single scull boat.
Morris, who trains at Guildford Rowing Club in Surrey, has previously won gold in the cycling at Beijing 2008 and bronze at London 2012.
Meanwhile in the equivalent men’s event, Tom Aggar took bronze.
The 32-year-old made history during Beijing 2008 when he took gold in the first-ever arms-shoulders men’s single scull.
The four-times World Champion is the longest-serving member of the GB Rowing Team para-rowing squad having made his debut in 2007.
Aggar came third in the race after a fierce battle with China’s Huang Cheng. The Ukraine’s Roman Polianskyi took gold and Australian Eric Horrie secured silver.
“I am so pleased to have made that cut and to have got on the podium,” said Aggar.
“The event has moved on hugely since Beijing and it’s an amazing feeling. We did a lot of rehearsals of having to race three times here and I knew I had the fitness so being in the repechage didn’t faze me,” he noted.
World Silver medallists Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley clearly showed why the gold was theirs after blasting from the blocks in the final of the trunk-and-arms mixed double sculls.
The pair beat the world record in their heat and dominated the final to take the top podium spot.
“I don’t think I can sum up the emotions,” said Whiteley, who only partnered with Rowles in 2015 after a two-and-a-half-year search.
“Two and a half years of thinking every day that it would be alright in the end. There were days when I could have walked away some days but for the end prize to be Paralympic gold, I would have done it again in a heartbeat,” he said.
Rowles added: “We beat the world record in the heat and we had confidence that we would do well but every crew out here is incredible so you know that you are not going to win it by miles. We have been putting in hours and hours and it’s so good.”
Meanwhile, Grace Clough, Daniel Brown, Pamela Relph, James Fox and cox Oliver James retained GB’s Paralympic crown in the mixed coxed four.
Making their mark from the start, the team was leading comfortably half way through the race, with clear water by the finish.
They won in a time of 3:17.170.
“It is an incredible feeling”, said Brown. “There have been some ups and downs on the way but it just shows that perseverance pays off.”
Back-to-back Paralympic Champion Relph said: “It feels amazing. Coming through that last 250m I knew that we had won it, I knew no-one would come through us and the crowd really lifted us.”
Fox added: “It’s been a long time coming, it just feels amazing. We train so hard and people say you are so lucky and it’s not luck. It’s been four hard years every World Champs is a stepping stone but the Paralympic Games tops it off”.
Cox Oliver James added:: “I am very proud of this crew. We planned for it and got the result we needed. The perfect execution of a race”.
Grace Clough said it felt amazing to be a first-time Paralympian and a champion, too.
“When I started the journey three short years ago, getting here was the challenge. Now I’m a Paralympic Champion,” she said.
“It is more than a dream come through. It goes without saying that we have superb back-up team at Caversham and the Lottery funding that we get makes it all possible,” added the gold medallist.
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