The battle continues.... 

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Megan Pascoe admits she is relishing the race for 2012 Paralympic selection as she prepares to round off a memorable season at the 2.4mR Open World Championships in Holland this month (19-25 September).

The 23-year-old 2009 ISAF World Cup series winner hit a career high at the 2010 IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships in Medemblik (NED) in July as she secured her first ever Worlds podium finish in winning bronze. 

It was a massive statement of intent from the Portland-based Pascoe, who missed out on Beijing 2008 selection to good friend and rival Helena Lucas, winner of three ISAF World Cup Series medals this season. And as she and Lucas remain neck-and-neck in contention for Britain’s one 2.4mR 2012 Paralympic berth, Megan insists the two women will be pushing each other all the way to decision day to give the selectors a real conundrum.

She said: “The IFDS Worlds were the big one for me this year and I needed a medal to show my promise for 2012. Helena and I have been pretty equal for the whole season, and it’s great to have both of us up and around the top end of the fleet, it definitely makes it exciting. “We consider ourselves lucky to have two of us competing for the same spot, it means when it comes to training partners we don’t have to worry about trying to find other people and our training sessions are really high intensity as neither of us ever wants to give an inch. It also helps when it comes to sharing travel arrangements and knowledge.

“I didn’t finish this season as high up the World Cup rankings as I would’ve like (Megan finished fourth), a couple of bad days at the end of Kiel week killed any hopes of retaining my World Cup title. However Kiel was actually a really positive regatta for me as for the first time ever I led a World Cup event, which was a really great feeling and showed me I could win races and stay at the top for the majority of a regatta.”

Unlike the IFDS Worlds, where all three Paralympic classes contest titles alongside one another, the 2.4mR class Worlds are an open event meaning Megan and Helena will compete in a fleet of both disabled and able-bodied sailors, with around 80-100 sailors, male and female, expected to descend on Hoorn, on the IJsselmeer lake in the Netherlands’ North West, for the championships.

Megan somewhat broke the mould for 2.4mR sailors when she first discovered the boat straight out of Optimists aged 14 as not only is the fleet largely dominated by men, its reputation as a non-physical boat to sail means it attracts able-bodied sailors who have excelled in other dinghies earlier in their careers. The Shoreham-by-Sea born talent spent her teenage years cutting her competitive teeth alongside former Finn Gold Cup competitors amongst other past masters, benefitting from their hugely valuable insight into how to make a boat go fast.

And while admitting it was not the most conventional upbringing in dinghy terms, Megan loves competing against the able-bodied sailors to learn even more.

She said: “I haven’t really thought where I’d like to finish at these Worlds. If I could get in the top 10 I’d be happy with that but this event really is more of a learning regatta for me. About 70% of the fleet will be able-bodied and the size of the fleet will make the racing very different to an all Paralympic fleet. But that’s what is so great about the 2.4mR as once everyone’s in their boats it really is a completely level playing field and the best sailor on the day will win.

“The age-range in the fleet is pretty extreme but I’ve learned, and still learn, so much from the able-bodied guys who’ve been there and done it. I love learning about tactics from them, and seeing how they set up their boats and what sails they’re using. These regattas are so different to what we’re used to during the rest of the year and it’s great to be able to take advantage of their experience.”

However competing against men will not be a new thing for Megan or Helena at Hoorn as the British women are two of the only females in the elite Paralympic 2.4mR fleet, something which brings its own challenges as Megan explains.  “There are some differences in how males and females approach racing, and I think men are generally more aggressive on the racecourse, and for a woman to be successful in a mixed class has to adopt some of the more male qualities. I’ve had to learn this and I did, and still do, struggle on the start line a bit but I grew up with two brothers and had to throw my weight around to get anything so it’s something I’m used to!

“It’s a bit like yacht racing; there are some very good females who have made their names in big boats and ok when it comes to grinding and the really physical stuff they’re not going to be as good as the men but if you can sit there and use your brain you can be very good.”

Despite being just 21 at the time, Megan admits not being selected for Beijing 2008 is still her biggest disappointment in sailing, but with a full campaign under her belt heading into 2012 she is desperate to make her mark this time around.

She added: “To start with the 2.4mR for me was never about the Paralympics I was just so excited to have found a boat I could be competitive in. I can and still do sail dinghies but I’m never going to be at the top of the fleet in the way I can be in the 2.4mR.

“I came to serious Paralympic campaigning pretty late in the last cycle and it didn’t really hit home that Beijing was a possibility until late 2007. It’s a still a huge regret it didn’t come off for me then. It was a strange September when the Paralympics were on as I was in Holland competing and when none of the Brits won a medal I was really shocked as I’d trained with them all year and knew how hard they had worked so I was so disappointed for everyone as my friends.

“This time it’s a bit different, I’ll have done a full campaign and a full-on campaign and hopefully I’ll be as ready as I can be to be in contention for selection.”