Portland Paralympians strike gold

Daily Echo: GOLDEN COUPLE: Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell GOLDEN COUPLE: Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell

PORTLAND’S Paralympians took centre stage on the penultimate day of the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta as they brought home two golds and a silver for Britain.

Extreme winds of up to 40 knots saw racing blown off the water for the 10 Olympic and three Paralympic classes, at the sixth leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup series.

The second day of abandoned racing for the Paralympic contenders meant gold for the Skud-18 two-person keelboat team of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell, and the Sonar trio of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, who held onto their leads from Wednesday.

For four-time world champions Rickham and Birrell, their latest victory also made them overall World Cup series winners.

Birrell, 25, of Easton, said: “It’s a nice feeling to win the event but it’s more important to win the Paralympics in a few months’ time.

“We had a similar situation in Hyeres with a similar forecast at the end of the week and we didn’t get to go racing.

“We were in silver position then and that was very frustrating so when we saw the forecast for the end of this week, me and Alex made it our absolute top priority to be leading by Wednesday night.

He added: “Britain's never had a medal in Paralympic sailing so there is a bit of pressure but we'll just carry on training and working hard then go racing fast and see what's in store.

“This week we had no wind on the first day to racing being blown off the last two days, it's a little bit mad and crazy but this is what can happen with sailing, there's no point worrying about it.”

Helm Rickham was delighted to win after a previous 'string of silvers' at Sail for Gold. She added: “To have had two days winning all races gives us a lot of confidence going into the Paralympics in September.”

Despite his team's win, Sonar crew Thomas, 35, was 'disappointed' that racing was cancelled. He said: “It would've been good to get more practice in before the Games.

“We had an average start to the regatta but we improved on the second and third days and we wanted to continue with that through the week.

“It was a pretty tough competition, all the guys here are going to be here at the Games, it was a strong fleet, everyone sailed well.

“We've not got two or three months of training now before the Games.

“You can expect anything with the weather at the Games in Weymouth, this week we had 30 knotters and days with five or six knots.”

Fortuneswell's 2.4mR sailor Lucas ended her regatta with silver but on equal points with gold-medallist Dutch sailor Thierry Schmitter, whose previous race win gave him the advantage.

Lucas said: “It's frustrating because in the last race on Wednesday I was in fourth place which would've given me a gold but I was pipped over the line by the Norwegian sailor.

“It's definitely made me even hungrier for the Paralympics finishing on equal points with the top boat.

“I've proved that I can do it even though I didn't sail my best regatta. Knowing that there are still areas that I can still improve on is great.

“It's September that really matters so hopefully it will all fall into place for me then.”

Portland's 2.4mR sailor Megan Pascoe finished fourth overall. Medal races for the Olympic classes will take place today and hundreds of people are expected to attend the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy to experience world-class sailing at London 2012 venue, with big screens and live commentary.

* Visit skandiasailforgoldregatta. co.uk, listen to the event radio on 87.7FM and follow @WeyOlympics2012 on Twitter.

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