Hannah Stodel Preview
Hannah Stodel believes the lessons learned from their Beijing 2008 “heartbreak” can drive she and her Sonar teammates to the biggest prize of them all - Paralympic gold - as the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta gets underway at Weymouth and Portland on Saturday (1 September).
West Mersea’s Stodel, who was born without a right forearm, became Britain’s first female sailing Paralympian when she, John Robertson and Steve Thomas made their Paralympic debut in the Sonar three-person keelboat at Athens 2004.
As double World Champions the trio went into Beijing 2008 as one of the favourites for gold, but could only replicate their result of four years earlier in finishing sixth. But the team have bounced back in style to win three World Championships medals since China, including silver in the London 2012 venue last year.
She said: “For Athens 2004 we were the underdogs and it was an experience. But at Beijing 2008 heart-breaking is probably a good way of describing it. We should have medalled and we didn’t. We let ourselves down, we let other people down.
“Afterwards there was some umming and ahing as to whether we would stay together as a group. People ask ‘What’s your greatest moment as a team?’ but for me the greatest moment was when we sat down in that meeting and said, “Are we going to do this again?” And everyone went. “Yes. Yes. Yes.” That was it. That’s more powerful for me than anything because we committed to each other.
“We are a very different team now. We’re a lot tougher than we were and we appreciate more the Games. People say, ‘Treat it like a World Championship’ but it’s not. The Paralympics come around once every four years. It’s a very different game.
“We only want one medal. We want the gold medal. Nothing else. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. We get up thinking, ‘What do we do today that’s going to push us one step closer to winning that medal?’ If it means getting up at 5am to drive the boat halfway across Europe that’s what we do and if it means going to the gym at 10pm, that’s what we do. Everything’s about the medal, that’s what we want.”
The Sonar has been in the Paralympics since the first sailing demonstration event took place at Atlanta 1996. 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.
However, Stodel believes it is the fact Britain’s Paralympic sailors are included as part of the whole British sailing team, with access to exactly the same specialists and sports scientists as the Olympic sailors, that gives them the best chance to succeed.
She added: “We’re one of the luckiest teams around. The British Sailing Team is 13 Olympic and Paralympic classes, it’s not an ‘us and them’ approach. Our team is very integrated and that is really powerful. We can be in the boat park with double Olympic gold medallist, Iain Percy, and he will help us move our boat. And you have Ben Ainslie and the biggest thing Ben gives us is his resilience to everything. He’s so tough, he just wants to go sailing and win medals. That is really inspiring because it doesn’t matter what anybody says to him, he’s going to do it anyway.”
In sailing competitors are classified according to a points system from 1-7, where low points are given to the severely disabled and high points for the less disabled. For the Sonar each crew of three is allowed a maximum of 14 points between them.
The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta runs from Saturday 1 September to Thursday 6 September.
There are three Paralympic classes – the 2.4mR (one-person keelboat), SKUD-18 (two-person keelboat) and Sonar. 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 11am daily.