Britain’s sailors won two medals on the final day of the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing regatta at Weymouth and Portland today (Thursday) as Helena Lucas took gold in the 2.4mR class and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell took bronze in the SKUD.
Britain’s two medals today are its first in Paralympic Sailing, although the British Sonar team of Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis and Tony Downs took gold when the sport was a demonstration event in Atlanta 1996.
Lucas – the first Briton to become a Paralympic Sailing champion – described victory as a dream come true despite being denied the chance to finish off in style when a lack of breeze in Portland Harbour meant all racing today was cancelled.
Lucas sat in gold medal position overnight, with a nine-point cushion over second-placed Heiko Kroger of Germany, and was guaranteed at least a silver medal, while Rickham and Birrell were sure of at least a bronze but had hoped to snatch a silver in their two-person class.
“This is the dream, this is definitely the dream,” said the Redhill-raised Lucas. “It’s absolutely fantastic to have achieved it, I’m just really, really pleased.
“I would have loved to have gone out today, especially as my sponsors were down and my husband was going to watch on the water, so it would have been really nice to have gone out and just finished the regatta off and had some celebrations on the water.
“But you can’t control the weather and we’ve had a superb week with a great variety of conditions so we can’t really complain.”
The 37 year old, who started sailing at eight and switched to Paralympic Sailing after failing to make the GB Olympic team for Athens, was the only woman in her one-person class.
“I had really good speed in all the conditions, which we have been working on really, really hard,” she said. “I had great starts, which enabled me to use my speed and pull away from the competition.
“I don’t think my size has really made that much difference. If you look at the difference in size with me compared to some of my competitors really the boats go pretty much the same speed. I might have a slight advantage downwind but it’s not as massive as you think considering the size difference.”
Lucas, who lives in Southampton, was part of the highly-rated ParalympicsGB Sailing squad in Beijing four years ago who failed to win a medal. This time, she said, no stone has been left unturned.
“I’ve got a great team behind me, the GB sailing support team is fantastic and they make sure we go out on the water properly prepared mentally and physically,” she said. “No stone has been left unturned.
“Obviously my coach too, we’ve had a great week on the water and it’s been a great team effort out there. It’s fantastic.”
Britain took a second medal through Rickham and Birrell but their bronze was tinged with disappointment when the flat conditions denied them a chance to race for silver.
“Clearly I am going to be a bit disappointed and gutted by how things have gone this week,” said Rickham, who was fifth in the same class with Birrell in Beijing but had come to London 2012 as world champions and tipped to win gold.
“I didn’t want to go back to London to see the rest of ParalympicsGB without a medal,” added the Epson resident who will celebrate her 31st birthday next Tuesday. “Last time it was absolutely the most painful thing I’ve ever had to experience, going back to Beijing from Qingdao, and being one of the only ones without one.
“We’ve ticked that box, but it is unfortunate that at a home Games we couldn’t come away with a medal of the colour we wanted.
“It’s nice to just get a medal for Paralympic Sailing in Britain because the fact is that we haven’t done the job for the last few Games, so we’re just proud to be part of that contingent that has managed to break the duck.”
Mancunian Birrell, at 25, the youngest member of the Sailing squad, said: “I’m a lot happier today. Yesterday there was a bit of emotion because we didn’t sail as well as we could and, although it was slim chance, we had the possibility of a gold.
“We threw that away, which is why there was so much emotion, but today I’m feeling a lot happier. We’re going to go to the Olympic Village with a Paralympic medal that means Alex and I will have medalled at every single SKUD event on the planet. That’s a great achievement over four years.”
The calm conditions were in stark contrast to the mood among the GB Sonar crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas who were penalised four points on Wednesday evening for a rule infringement which dropped them from third to fifth.
The infringement involved the team bosun, Simon Hiscocks, and was described by Stephen Parks, ParalympicsGB Sailing team leader, as “a minor off-the-water incident”.
After their initial request for the case to be re-opened was rejected last night, the British team continued to protest today and will seek to get the jury’s decision reversed.
Park said: “We are trying to get the hearing re-opened because we think there were some significant errors by the jury and some errors in the way they have interpreted the rules. So we provided them with evidence that we felt was appropriate to get the hearing re-opened and evidence that we didn’t have at the time from our original hearing.
“Some evidence we provided yesterday, and some we provided today, so different hearings,” he explained. “We had a hearing last night and another two today and on all of those occasions they’ve decided not to reopen the hearing. We felt that there had been a lot of good evidence provided and that’s unfortunate.
“We think the outcome is incorrect. We actually think that when you get to any situation where the athletes’ scorecard is being altered through a misunderstanding between two shore staff, one of whom is a technical official and one of whom is a team support staff, about something that doesn’t have any impact on performance, it is a sad day for the sport.
“We think that frankly irrespective of the outcome we need to make sure that this is rectified for the future. Obviously, in the process we’ll be doing everything we can to get the hearing addressed appropriately and get John, Hannah and Steve the bronze medal that they deserve before the jury decision took it away from them.”
Sunderland-born skipper Robertson said: “After actually getting us into a medal position, that’s been pretty much taken away from us. It’s not over yet and we are going to keep fighting until the right decision has been made.
“We won the bronze medal and, by a quite ridiculous ruling by the jury, we’ve lost that, I’m afraid. We are really proud to have done the job and quite frustrated, upset, disappointed.
“I think we are resigned to the fact that today we won’t be getting the medal this afternoon unless something weird happens. But congratulations to the rest of the guys who have won medals. They have sailed really well all week and it’s been a fantastic event, the closest event and just cracking sailing all week.”
For more news and pictures from London 2012 go to the ParalympicsGB website: www.paralympics.org.uk/gb