Reigning 2.4mR champion, Helena Lucas, believes Britain’s sailors have learned from the “snakes and ladders” racing of last month’s Olympics as the Rio 2016 Paralympic sailing regatta starts in Guanabara Bay this afternoon (Monday 12 September).
ParalympicsGB’s six sailors in the three Paralympic classes are chomping at the bit to get their six days of competition off and running.
Lucas, Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (SKUD) and John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (Sonar) flew to Rio on 29 August and have spent the past two weeks getting acclimatized, completing final boat and equipment checks, doing media interviews and training on the Paralympic racecourses.
Britain topped the medal table at the Olympics. But, throughout the two-week regatta, the racetracks, especially inside Guanabara Bay and in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, delivered some seriously testing conditions that saw even the medal winners posting big scores, leaving no margin for error.
Lucas admits having that insight before the Paralympics, combined with their own previous Games experience, could prove invaluable in achieving success in Rio.
She said: ‘Having watched our guys competing at the Olympics we know it’s going to be a whole mixed bag out there. We saw them having races cancelled because of no wind, racing cancelled because of too much wind, everything. The big lesson I learned was it’s not over until you cross that finish line you just don’t give up.
‘The Sugarloaf course looks like it will be potentially quite a tricky racecourse but it’s snakes and ladders and you’ve just got to wait for your opportunity and keep fighting to the end. It’s going to be a tough regatta with a variety of conditions, but means everyone has a chance to perform in potentially their favourite conditions.
‘Until now we’ve been training out of Niteroi, which is the other side of the bay, so this trip’s been the first time we’ve sailed Marina da Glória side and it’s actually been the first time I’ve been into the Marina itself.
‘There’s a really positive mood in the camp, we’ve all been there and done it, so everyone’s really upbeat. The hard work’s done and this last week has been about staying on top of everything, making sure we’re happy and the boat’s fine. Now we’re looking forward to getting going. We want to bring back medals.’
In total 80 Paralympic sailors will do battle for the nine medals across the three classes. Each class is scheduled to contest an 11 race series, with two races per day from today, Monday 12 to Friday 16 September, before one final series race for each class, after which the medals will be awarded, on Saturday 17 September.
Three course areas can be used for the Paralympics – the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) and Escola Naval courses inside Guanabara Bay and the Copacabana course outside on the ocean. But all races are provisionally scheduled on the inside courses only.
Britain’s sailors and support team did not attend last Wednesday’s official Opening Ceremony at the Maracanã Stadium, opting to enjoy a private dinner and watch the fireworks from the team hotel to minimise the impact on their preparations. But Lucas says that has not stopped them getting into the full Paralympic spirit.
She added: ‘I’m really enjoying being in Rio. Each morning I’ve been up early, out running with the locals along the beach and last Sunday they closed off the main road and everyone was out cycling and running.
‘There’s a really great vibe here. I think the Brazilians, like the British public did, have got the Olympic bug and that’s creating a really good atmosphere.’
How to follow the action
Racing is scheduled to start at 5pm (1pm Brazilian time) each day. No race will start later than 9pm. On medal day, racing is scheduled to start at 4pm with no race starting later than 7.30pm. Saturday’s medal ceremony is scheduled for 9pm. All times are BST.
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