Race Day 1 - SKUD Report
SKUD pair refusing to get carried away
Early leaders Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell insist they will be reading nothing into today’s results as they got their London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta off to a promising start at Weymouth and Portland today (Saturday 1 September).
The four-time SKUD World champions picked up a second and first from their first two races of the two-person keelboat event, the same scores as their Australian rivals Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, but sit at the top of the leaderboard overnight on account of having won the last race of the day.
The opening race saw the Aussies take the early advantage, swooping into a half a minute lead halfway through the race. Rickham and Birrell managed to reduce the advantage to actually take the lead on the run to the line but Fitzgibbon and Tesch came back strongly to nip back ahead metres from the finish to take the win.
Race two was a different story as the Brits got out of the blocks quickest and led from start to finish to ensure it was all square with the Aussies at close of play.
Epsom’s Rickham said: “It’s a good start, a solid start. We feel good but it’s only day one so we don’t read anything into it at all. It’s where we wanted to be. The first race was a bit difficult, to take the loss on the line, that was hard. Clearly it’s going to be a bit of a battle with the Australians as it stands at the moment. We’re just looking forward to the rest of the regatta and taking each day as it comes. Tomorrow we start with a zero score in our heads and try and do it again.”
Birrell, from Knutsford, said: “We’ve got three points from two races, which is a great start. The boat’s going fast, Alex is sailing well and everything looks good so we’re just excited to go sailing again tomorrow. We let what is going to be one of our key opponents take a point on us in the first race, which was frustrating, but I thought me and Alex bounced back really quickly from that, switched on for what we had to do for race two and won race two, which was what we had to do really at that stage.”
Jamaican-born Rickham has a number of members of her family who have flown over from the Caribbean and the USA to watch her in action at these home Games while Birrell, whose brother Christian has been a training partner for the SKUD duo, also has support in depth on-site from his North West based friends and family.
Although the pair are refusing to get carried away after one day, they are keen to put on a show for those people who have travelled so far to back them.
Rickham added: “I popped my head out to say hi to my family last night because people had flown in from Jamaica and the States and they weren’t expecting that so that was good. It’s great to be part of London 2012 and to be on home turf. I know everyone always says it but it is once in a lifetime. On our way in today everyone was tooting their horns on their boats and it was nice as we sailed past.”
Birrell concluded: “I’ve never, ever had so much support. I’ve probably had about 200 messages saying ‘Good Luck’, that they are coming to watch on the last day and that we’ve got to make sure it’s a party! It’s been really nice because me and Alex work down here in the cold and the rain in December, and it’s horrible when there’s nobody about so it’s nice to have everyone behind us. We can really feel the support and we’re just trying to do our best now. Although all I was thinking was my brother won’t be happy when we got sailed past on the last run in the first race! He will give me a bit a stick tonight but hopefully we won’t let that happen again.”
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 Games programme at Sydney 2000.
The London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta runs from Saturday 1 September and Thursday 6 September.
Racing is scheduled to resume at 11am tomorrow. Two races are scheduled per day for each class except on the final day when there will be one race.