Great Britain’s most experienced Paralympic sailors will once again represent ParalympicsGB at Rio 2016, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) has announced.
With just over six months to go until the Games get under way, London 2012 bronze medallists Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell have been selected to contest for medals in the SKUD 18 class, while the trio of Stephen Thomas, John Robertson and Hannah Stodel take their places in the Sonar.
Rickham and Birrell are already two-time Paralympians, having made their debut together in the SKUD 18 class at Beijing 2008 and celebrate their selection to Rio 2016 as five-time World Champions and current Paralympic bronze medallists.
Meanwhile Stephen Thomas, John Robertson and Hannah Stodel will be competing in their fourth Summer Paralympics together after making their debut in Athens. The trio narrowly missed out on winning a medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The five athletes complete the line-up for the ParalympicsGB sailing team, and take up their places alongside London 2012 gold medallist Helena Lucas, who was the first athlete to be selected to ParalympicsGB for Rio back in April 2015.
Epsom’s Alexandra Rickham, teaming up with Niki Birrell for their third consecutive Games, said: ‘I couldn’t be happier to be selected to represent ParalympicsGB in Rio. We’ll face tough competition out in Rio, but these next few months of intensive preparations will make sure we’ll be ready to shine at the Paralympics, and having such incredible support back at home will really boost us.’
Niki Birrell, who lives in Bournemouth, Dorset, said: ‘I’m so proud to be selected to ParalympicsGB alongside Alex. We’ve not rested on our laurels after London, and we’ve been working really hard to ensure our place in the SKUD was beyond doubt. I’m ready to face the competition in Rio, and can’t wait to start racing.’
Stephen Thomas, Hannah Stodel and John Robertson go into the Games as reigning World Champions after striking gold at the 2015 World Championships. They made their Paralympic debut together at Athens 2004, making Rio 2016 their fourth consecutive Games as a trio.
Stephen Thomas, of Bridgend, Wales, said: ‘Representing your country at the Paralympics means the world to us and we’ll be working incredibly hard over the next few months to make everyone at home proud. Our sport is incredibly competitive and it’s not going to be easy, but going into the competition as reigning World Champions definitely gives us confidence.’
Hannah Stodel, of Colchester, Essex said: ‘London 2012 was tough, but it’s certainly made me more determined for Rio and I’m so excited to be selected to the team. It’s taken years of hard work for us to get to this point and we’re not going to stop until the moment we finish racing. The three of us work really well together and I’m confident we can achieve our goals.’
Sunderland’s John Robertson said: ‘The three of us in the Sonar have so much experience of working together as a team, and I’m absolutely delighted to be selected alongside them for Rio 2016. As athletes, we’ve been through a lot and I feel like we’ve definitely got a point to prove in Rio, but the support team behind us is truly world class so we’ll have the best possible preparations.’
Penny Briscoe MBE, ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission for Rio 2016, said: ‘The selection of such a strong, talented and experienced group of athletes sends a powerful message to other Paralympic sailing nations. Our athletes will be looking to maintain their good form in Rio and compete for medals across all three classes.
‘All five athletes have really proved themselves throughout the selection process, with the recent gold for the Sonar and silver for the SKUD 18 at the 2015 Para-Sailing World Championships demonstrating the scale of their ambition for Rio. I’m delighted to welcome them to the team.’
Sailing team leader and Royal Yachting AssociationOlympic and Paralympic manager Stephen Park said: ‘We’re delighted to be able to finalise our Paralympic team selections today and to be taking six talented and experienced athletes with us to Rio, all of whom have proven themselves in major competition over a number of years.
‘There’s no doubt that Rio is an incredibly challenging environment to compete in, and the sailors will be focussing all their energies on learning the intricacies of racing in Guanabara Bay. All of these athletes have been to the Games a number of times before and with the removal of sailing from the Tokyo 2020 programme, this could be the last opportunity for them to perform so we will be working all out with them and doing all we can to ensure they fulfil their medal potential in Rio.’
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