Helena Lucas claimed 2.4mR one-person keelboat bronze at the Rio 2016 Paralympic sailing regatta today, Saturday 17 September.
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell admitted they were “elated” after matching their London 2012 feats by taking Skud-18 bronze on the final day of Rio 2016 racing.
While the British Sonar team, who already knew they were out of medal contention going into the final race, ended their regatta on a high with a third place to finish ninth overall.
Lucas added the bronze medal to the gold she won at London 2012 after finishing 15th in the final race of their 11 race series on Guanabara Bay today.
Lucas went into today leading by a point from France’s Damien Seguin with Matt Bugg (AUS) lying third 10 points behind the Brit.
Seguin sailed to a fourth place finish to claim victory today, adding a Rio 2016 gold medal to the one he won at the Athens 2004 Games.
Winning the final race, Australia’s Matt Bugg leapfrogged Lucas to take the silver medal, a third medal of the Games for his country.
With gold and bronze Paralympic medals, Lucas is Britain’s most successful Paralympic sailor ever. The 41-year-old was competing at her third Games, having made her debut at Beijing 2008, where she finished seventh.
Having headed into the final race of the 2016 regatta in pole position overall, Lucas’ achievements were tinged with disappointment after she found her progress had been hindered during the race by a plastic bag on her rudder.
She said: ‘It was an absolute fight in the mix, I couldn’t break out or break free no matter what I did. I kept thinking I was doing the right thing and getting the shifts right but I didn’t have the speed I’ve had all week because I was towing a bag.
‘I came in to this event with my eyes wide open and I thought there would be six of us in contention for the medals so when everything settles down a bit I will be happy I’m on the podium because it is such a competitive fleet. I’ll let the dust settle and be happy with a medal. I did give it my best.’
Meanwhile Britain’s Skud-18 duo Alex Rickham and Niki Birrell took bronze after entering the day still in with a shout for silver, trailing the Canadian duo John McRoberts and Jackie Gay by a single point.
But in a ding-dong battle around the racetrack, where the positions were changing hand throughout, McRoberts and Gay ultimately sailed over the line third in the race, four seconds ahead of the Brits in fourth, to take the silver medal.
Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS) had wrapped up gold with two races to spare yesterday. But with Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki (POL) lurking just four points off the medals in fourth spot before racing, and then taking line honours today, Rickham and Birrell couldn’t hide their delight at finishing on the podium again.
Rickham and Birrell’s medal, along with Helena Lucas’ bronze in the 2.4mR, means that the British Sailing Team has achieved its pre-Rio target of two medals.
Rickham said: ‘We feel relieved. It’s been a long, very hard week. We came here to contest for the gold, but that slipped away really quite quickly, and we’re just so happy to have got the medal.
‘It was close to being silver but John and Jackie sailed a fabulous regatta and they really deserved that medal. We’re just elated. It’s great to be able to come away with another medal.’
Birrell added: ‘To have two Paralympic medals is just surreal. They don’t come easy and I’d like to thank everyone who has ever helped us in our SKUD programme. Thank you so, so much. Now I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my wife!
‘Rio has been fantastic, we’ve really enjoyed it. To get all 11 races in is awesome. We came for gold but we’re super happy with bronze because this week we’ve had to fight so hard in our boat for every metre and every position.’
Rickham added: ‘It was a really stressful race. On the start line we were really concerned because we were really close to the line so we were a bit worried we were over and we wouldn’t have known until the end.
‘But we had good boat speed and Niki was making some really good calls. It was really difficult on the course, up and down with massive shifts at the top of the course underneath Sugarloaf Mountain so it was anybody’s game.
‘Behind the Poles there must have been positional changes five or six times so it was hard but we’re really, really happy.’
Britain’s Sonar trio of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas ended their Rio 2016 Paralympics on a high after a third place in today’s sole race saw them finish the regatta ninth overall.
The Brits had gone into the race knowing that a medal was out of their reach but vowing to put on a display of their best form after enduring a rollercoaster regatta.
And they were true to their word as they enjoyed a great start from the port end of the line on the Pão de Açúcar course (Sugarloaf) to lead up the first beat and head round the windward mark first before finally crossing the line still in the top three.
It was not the end to their Paralympic careers, which started at Athens 2004, that the British Sonars had hoped for, having clawed themselves back into medal contention with three wins at the midpoint of the regatta only for a race seven disqualification leaving them on the back foot and playing catch up again.
But Robertson admitted that despite their disappointment, they were pleased to leave Rio on the back off a good performance.
He said: ‘It was good to finish on a high note, it just shows what we can do. It was a tricky racecourse on the Sugarloaf course today, there was a nice breeze that we just had to read, and Hannah did a cracking job of that.
‘We sailed the boat well but to be honest we’re just pretty disappointed not to be on the podium and not to get a gold medal.
‘That’s just sport and we weren’t quite good enough this week. Even though we tried our best it didn’t all quite gel at the right time and that happens sometimes.’
Robertson admitted he and his teammates left themselves with an uphill battle after the opening two days when they scored 11, 9 and 14.
With Rio living up to its reputation as one of the world’s toughest venues the Brits were left frustrated at not fulfilling the potential they felt they had to take their first Paralympic silverware coming into the event.
Robertson added: ‘It’s a tricky venue and on the second race on the first day we were in the top three at the first mark and then there was a big wind shift and we ended up ninth and that put us back in the pack at the start.
‘Then the next day was another poor one and we were last in that race so those two tricky first days made it hard to get into it. They were the days that did for us really.
‘The Wednesday when we got the three bullets was pretty awesome; there was a nice bit of breeze and we really got into. To nail it into a provisional medal position the next day, only to get a disqualification was pretty awful. It is frustrating but congratulations to all the medallists but we should have done better really.’
Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris won gold for Australia, Rick Doerr, Hugh Freund and Bradley Kendell (USA) took silver and Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes (CAN) bronze.
Speaking yesterday, British Sailing Team manager Stephen Park said the final day of the regatta would undoubtedly be ‘quite emotional.’ He said: ‘As we look forward to 2020, an event where sailing is not currently on the Paralympic programme – it looks like the next opportunity is going to be 2024 – so it’s going to be probably the last Paralympic regatta for the majority of competitors from the majority of countries.’
He added: ‘If ParalympicsGB can finish with two [sailing] medals, it’ll be great to add to the overall GB medal tally.
‘We’ve already succeeded in surpassing the goal of 121 Paralympic medals here for ParalympicsGB and of course that makes ParalympicsGB the first nation ever to actually exceed its home Games target – and the same performance as the Olympic team last month.
‘That’s an incredible place to be and all our sailors here can feel proud to be part of the ParalympicsGB team here in Rio 2016.’
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