Race Day 2 - SKUD Report
"More than Two Horse Race" insists Rickham
British two-person keelboat helm, Alexandra Rickham, dismissed the idea that the race for SKUD class gold was a two-horse race between Britain and Australia as the USA ruled the waves on day two of the Paralympic Sailing Regatta at Weymouth and Portland today (Sunday 2 September).
Rickham, with partner Niki Birrell, and the Australian pair Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch had shared the spoils to sit tied on level points at the end of the opening day.
But it was the performance of the 2011 and 2012 Worlds silver medallist Americans, Jen French and J-P Creignou, that really caught the eye today, as they scored two race wins to up their medal charge and move into bronze medal position to sit just a point behind Britain in second and two points behind the Australian leaders.
By their own admission the Brits had a mixed day, a poor start in the opening race of the day seeing them take fourth in that race - race three overall - before they followed that up with a measured second place behind the Americans in race four.
Rickham admits that while others may have written off anyone but themselves or the Australians topping the podium come the end of the week, she and Birrell have never bought into that notion.
She said: “I didn’t expect it, like others might have expected it, to be a two-horse race between ourselves and the Australians. You can never discount the Americans and the Canadians. Each day brings a different set of conditions and different people have strengths in different conditions so you see them push forward and clearly the Americans had a storming day.
“We’ve seen the Americans make massive gains in these conditions before so we have to keep plugging away. It was unfortunate to get the fourth today as we were hoping to keep it to top threes but a four and two is not really a bad result so we will see what tomorrow brings.”
French and Creignou laid down the gauntlet from the first start of the day, sprinting out to the first mark to hold a 22 second advantage over Fitzgibbon and Tesch. With Rickham and Birrell struggling off the start line they ended up in a battle for third with John McRoberts and Stacie Louttit (CAN), which the Canadians narrowly won.
The Brits enjoyed a much better start in race two but although Fitzgibbon and Tesch were slower away from the start by the first mark the Australians had regained the initiative, rounding in first with USA and GBR following closely behind. Coming off the third mark the Americans and Brits managed to overturn the Aussie’s lead after Fitzgibbon and Tesch took a penalty turn for hitting the mark at the leeward gate.
But just as it looked like a comfortable second for the Brits in that race they too voluntarily undertook a 360 penalty turn after an assertion by the Australians that they had hit mark six, a call that led to the Brits submitting a Rule 2 protest against the Australian pair for unsportsmanlike conduct. Although that protest was dismissed by the jury, the Australians were given a verbal warning as to their behaviour.
Rickham added: “Our boat speed was a little bit down on the Americans, who were really, really fast today. It was just hard racing. There were protests and all sorts of things being called, and a few incidents on the water. That always makes racing harder because you have to think about multiple things rather than just getting the boat going in the right direction at fast as possible.
“We would be a bit happier if that race three hadn’t been as bad as it was but we are putting together a series and the top four boats are really, really close so we can’t really be unhappy with where we are at this stage. It’s going to be fun and exciting racing and that’s what you come to the Games for isn’t it? If it was that easy we would have won one of these a long time ago!”
RYA Team Manager, Stephen Park, said: “It was felt by our sailors that there was no way the Australians could have had a clear sight of the mark to make a determination about whether they would have hit the mark or not, and they were just trying it on.
“Combined with a number of issues that have been going on over the past few days, and comments between the boats, led our sailors to believe that the Australians were engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct.
“The jury have considered all the facts. They dismissed the Rule 2 protest for unsportsmanlike conduct, which was not surprising because finding someone guilty of Rule 2 is a very strong position.
“However, we were pleased that the jury did think that it was appropriate to give the Australian team a verbal warning as to their behaviour.
“This prompted the Australians to apologise to Alexandra after the hearing, and hopefully now this will mean everyone can get on with the racing on the water, and let the medals be won afloat rather than in the jury room.”
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.