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Aussie gold rush on the shores of Rio de Janeiro at the Paralympic Sailing

by Richard Aspland, World Sailing 17 Sep 2016 08:28 BST 12 September 2016

There was Aussie elation at the Marina da Gloria on day five as the Rio 2016 Paralympic gold medals were wrapped up in the Two Person (SKUD18) and Three Person Keelboat (Sonar) with a day to spare.

Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch in the SKUD18 were yet again on fire as they took two bullets from two races to seal the first ever Paralympic sailing title defence in commanding fashion.

In the Sonar, Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris go in to the final race with a healthy 24-point lead and a guaranteed gold medal that ensures Advance Australia Fair will ring out on Flamengo Beach twice come the Medal Ceremony.

It was looking like the Australian anthem could be played three times as Matt Bugg came ashore with a four point lead in the One Person Keelboat (2.4 Norlin OD) only to be disqualified from the final race, demoting him to third and promoting Great Britain's Helena Lucas to the top spot.

Two Person Keelboat – SKUD18

From start to finish, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch have made the head of the fleet their own. From ten races they have eight wins and two second place finishes to sit on 10 points overall with a lead of 21 points over John McRoberts and Jackie Gay (CAN) in second. They wrapped up the gold with two races to spare.

But just how have they done it, for Tesch the inspiration comes from one man, "Australian sailing legend John Bertrand told us, "loose as a goose", and I think all those conditions getting flung at us out on the Bay, we are just so adaptable and able to handle it. We put in the hard yards before we got here and its paid off."

Tesch is known around the boat park as being a larger than life character and often refers to sailing as 'a crazy sport', so when playfully asked if Tesch is the crazy one, Fitzgibbon agrees with a laugh, "Sometimes it does helps to have a crazy partner. But we can adapt to everything, we can deal with craziness and deal with instability and come out on top."

His sailing partner isn't the only person Fitzgibbon acknowledges, "We have the best support crew around with coach Geoff Woolley and Tim Lowe. Tim has been with me since the silver in Beijing [2008] and he puts more in to the SKUD than anyone. If he was paid by the hour we would all be bankrupt."

With talk moving from their own achievements, it shows the camaraderie in the Aussie camp that celebrations will be put on hold for a little bit, as Tesch explains, "It's awesome to have the Sonar boys in the gold medal position as well, but we really got to hold it together for Matt Bugg to give him all our energy and support to get him over the line."

Half interrupting, Fitzgibbon says, "Guess what. We are the first back to back Paralympic gold medal sailors in history." That fact is met with the usual loud and excited whoop from Tesch.

With the gold medal sewn up, the fight is on for silver and bronze. McRoberts and Gay hold the silver medal position at present after a 2,6 day to finish on 31 points. One point back is Great Britain's Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell who scored a 4,5.

With a 2,5, Polish world champions, Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki, have some work to do and need to put a few boats between themselves and both Canada and Great Britain if they are to make the podium. They currently have 36 points.

Three Person Keelboat – Sonar

With Fitzgibbon and Tesch securing gold with two races to spare, counterparts Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris were next in line to secure another Australian gold ahead of the final race.

Yet again consistency was the key as a second place gave the Aussies a strong advantage going in to race ten. All they had to do was finish in the top 11 places for the race and the gold was theirs. They won the race just to put the shine on it.

Fresh off the water Harrison said, "It's just elation. It's been a long time coming and it feels great to get there. I don't know yet, still trying to work it out, I can't describe it. There's a lot of emotion."

Harrison couldn't quite find the words to describe the win, but he found some when it came to why the whole Australian Sailing Team have been doing so well, "I think we have just got the best work ethic, culture, support and everything going on in the background is all about achieving success. That's what we felt over the years and that's why we are here today, without a doubt."

For Harris a particular example of this support came to mind, "Going to Miami [USA] earlier on this year was a really important regatta, getting to sail against the Americans and Canadians there. We couldn't afford to go but the team got behind us and somehow the money appeared and we got some tickets and accommodation and we were there. Things like that have helped all the way through."

Being consistent at Rio 2016 was no fluke for the Australian Sonar team. They have been consistent all year, and longer, leading up to the Paralympic Games, but it has always been that little bit out of reach for them, until now, "What's been frustrating is, in the last three years, we've always been on the podium but always a point or two away and it's been frustrating but you know what?" asks Harris, "This is the one that obliterates all those memories. Being the last Paralympics for sailing, it's a good one to have won."

The Australian win was largely helped by their nearest rivals at the start of the day, USA, faltering. Current world champions Alphonsus Doerr, Hugh Freund and Bradley Kendell were within reach of the gold at the beginning of play, but with a disappointing eighth and discarded tenth they fell too far back to challenge for the top step on the podium.

The Americans hold on to second with 43 points, but their North American neighbours and training partner, Canada, are just one point behind on 44. Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes finished the day with a seventh and a second in the final race of the day.

In fourth place on the leaderboard with 48 points are London 2012 bronze medallists, Norway. Greece and New Zealand are next on 49 points, just one point ahead of Germany on 50.

There is still all to play for in the Sonar for silver and bronze Paralympic medals.

One Person Keelboat – 2.4 Norlin OD

Great Britain's Helena Lucas leads the 2.4 Norlin OD fleet, but it could have all been so different.

When the boats docked at the Marina da Gloria, Australia's Matt Bugg was holding a guaranteed Paralympic medal and a four-point advantage at the top. But in a change of fortunes, Bugg finds himself with a lot of work to do just to make sure he doesn't leave Rio 2016 empty handed after a jury decision went against him and in favour of the protestor, Arturo Montes-Vorcy (ESP).

That decision also moved France's Damien Seguin from a guaranteed Paralympic medal, to a guaranteed Paralympic silver medal.

"Today was a terrible day of sailing," Seguin said laughing, "I was really close with the other guys, especially with the American [Dee Smith] who was fighting for the podium today, but finally it was really good for me. Two second places. I am really happy tonight because I'm on the podium."

Seguin's second win of the day was later upgraded to first as the Bugg protest result trickled through the fleet.

Champion in Athens 2004, silver in Beijing 2008 and fourth in London 2012. Seguin is happy to be back on the medal trail, "It's my third medal. It's just crazy. It hasn't sunk in yet, tomorrow maybe. I'm still in the race [for gold] and we will see tomorrow."

That race for gold will be against the reigning champion Helena Lucas. Lucas sits on 25 points and just one point above Seguin on 26. It'll be a shootout for gold on the final day.

With the protest changing Bugg's final race bullet to a disqualification, the Aussie fell from top to third where he sits with 35 points. Sailing consistently all week, Bugg finished 14th in Race 9, which he counts, and now finds himself in a fight for bronze with Dee Smith (USA).

With silver and bronze still up for grabs in the Sonar and SKUD18 and a tense race for gold in the 2.4 Norlin OD, the final race day will welcome a full house of spectators lining the sands of Flamengo Bay with racing scheduled to start at 12:00 local time.

Australia wins 2 Gold medals with a day to spare at the Paralympics (from Australian Sailing)

Australia's sailors have secured two Gold Medals and are in contention for a third medal going into tomorrow's final day of racing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Australia's Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch have become the first sailors to win back-to-back Paralympic Gold medals after wrapping up the win in the SKUD18 class in Rio overnight, with two races to spare. Meanwhile Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris have wrapped up Gold in the Sonar class with one race still to be sailed. In the 2.4mR class, the competition is a lot closer for Matt Bugg, who is currently third overall and in still in medal contention for tomorrow.

Australia's defending Paralympic champions in the SKUD18, Daniel Fitzgibbon & Liesl Tesch have eight wins and two second places on their near perfect scorecard. This gives them an unassailable lead going into the final day of racing.

"We're loving it!" said Fitzgibbon at the conclusion of racing today. "Liesl and I can deal with everything and still come out on top!"

"This is a crazy sport!" said Tesch. "All those conditions that were getting flung at us out there on the bay, meant we had to be adaptable this week and we've shown we can deal with anything. We've really put in some hard yards in the lead up to Rio, and it's paid off.

"It's awesome having the Sonar boys in the gold medal position too, but now we need to hold it together for Matt Bugg to get him over the line."

In the Sonar class Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris have a similarly impressive scorecard, with all of their results, bar two, in the top three. The Aussies have become known for their ability to work their way back through the fleet though. On several occasions this week they didn't have the best of starts, but their good handling and boat speed saw them work their way back through the fleet to finish in the top three. This was the case in today's first race, where they were seventh around the top mark, but worked back up into second at the finish. In the final race of the day, the Aussies knew they needed a strong result to wrap up a medal, and came out strongly and led for most of the race.

"It won't sink in until the medal is around the neck," said Harrison "It's an unreal feeling."

"We've been together for the last three years and we've been on the podium for most of that time, so it's good to finally get it done," said Boaden.

"We've always been a point or two away, and this obliterates all those memories of small losses," added Harris. " Being the last Paralympics (with sailing not in Tokyo 2020) it's a good one to win. The team we have around us seem to be there to get rid of any obstacles you have to sailing well and that's a great thing!"

In the 2.4mR class, the competition has been a lot closer for Australia's Matt Bugg. A photo finish yesterday saw him hold the lead overnight, but a tough first race today saw him drop back to second overall. Bugg crossed the line in 14th in today's first race, but his consistent results throughout the week kept him in striking distance on the overall leaderboard. However, it was the second race today that caused the most controversy. Bugg appeared to be sailing well and crossed the finish line in first place, only to be disqualified in the protest room this evening for a port/starboard incident with the Spanish boat on the second beat. This leaves him third place overall, twelve points off GBR in first place and eleven points off FRA in second place. The USA boat is only two points behind Australia, so Bugg will need a strong result in tomorrow's final race to hang onto a medal.

U.S. Paralympic Sonar, 2.4mR Will Challenge for Medals On Saturday (from U.S. Sailing)

With the completion of Friday's races, one day of competition remains at the Rio 2016 Paralympic regatta. Team USA will enter Saturday's final race in contention for medals in the three-person Sonar and one-person 2.4mR classes.

In the Sonar, Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine) maintained their position in 2nd place overall for the third consecutive day, but after submitting a 10, 8 scoreline on Day 5 face an intense battle for the podium on Saturday. The Australian team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris clinched gold on Friday, but silver and bronze are still reachable by a significant portion of the fleet. Canada's team, helmed by two-time Paralympic medalist Paul Tingley with crew Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes sit in third, just one point behind the Americans. The fourth through eighth place boats are lurking close behind, with only a handful of points separating the pack.

"On the second race we were leading at the first mark, but our decision to gybe immediately after the mark didn't work out," said Freund, the bowman. "The rest of the fleet blocked our wind, and we got passed by a few boats. After that, we weren't able to round the favored leeward gate, and got bounced around upwind."

Kendell, the tactician and main trimmer, said that despite Friday's challenges the team was confident heading into Saturday's deciding race. "We didn't make it easy for ourselves today, but we've proven we can do well," said Kendell, who survived a plane crash 13 years ago, and joined forces with Doerr and Freund in 2010. "We were thinking too much out there today. We just need to focus on our jobs, and get it done."

Dee Smith (Annapolis, Md.) sailed well on Day 5, with finishes of 1st and 5th. The professional sailor and cancer survivor remained in 4th overall, and will enter Saturday 2 points away from 3rd. Smith will need to overtake Australian Matthew Bugg to take bronze. Both sailors have flashed considerable speed this week, and each of them have won three of the ten races.

Smith initially though he would enter Saturday's final race a formidable ten points away from bronze, but Bugg's 17/DSQ in Race 10 breathed new life into the American's hopes for a medal. While both Bugg and Smith can mathematically move higher than bronze on the podium, the battle for gold and silver will be likely be waged between defending champion Helena Lucas of Great Britain, and Damien Seguin of France. Saturday's Paralympic showdown in the 2.4mR one-person keelboat, a boat sailed worldwide by able-bodied and adaptive competitors alike, promises to be both tense and exciting.

Despite a solid 4th place finish in Race 10, the SKUD-18 team of Ryan Porteous (San Diego, Calif.) and Beijing 2008 gold medalist Maureen McKinnon (Marblehead, Mass.) were eliminated from medal contention on Friday. The American pair are only two positions away from bronze, but the 12 point deficit is not assailable in Saturday's final race.

"We had a good start in the second race, and were able to work our way into lanes of wind," said Porteous, the helmsman and a first-time Paralympian. "After that, we played the shifts well, and had good speed."

The defending gold medalists from Australia, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, locked up a second gold on Friday after taking the win in Race 9. The pair have submitted a dominant performance, winning every race but two, and taking 2nd in the others. Silver and bronze in the SKUD-18 will be up for grabs on Saturday for teams from Canada, Great Britain, and Poland.

New Zealand Parasailors ready to give everything in final podium push

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Regatta has just one day to go and the kiwi Sonar crew of Richard Dodson, Andrew May, and Chris Sharp is preparing to give it everything in a final push for the podium.

Australia's Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris have the gold medal sewn up with a race to spare, unbeatable on points, but behind them, there's a handful of nations still in with a chance of a medal, including the kiwis.

Lying sixth overall with 49 points the New Zealanders are just five points adrift of Canada lying third on 44 points, with USA going into the last race in the silver medal position on 43 points.

Two Sonar races were sailed in Rio today on the Naval course. The kiwis placed 11th in the opener, then returned a 4th. Skipper, Richard Dodson talked after racing about the day; "It ended up not bad," he said. "We got a good start and we were probably coming 1st or 2nd in that first race and then the wind changed badly, and the tide went bad and we went from 1st to third to last – so that was no good."

"In the other race, we got a decent start again and we ended up 4th which was alright." Dodson congratulated the Australian's who have secured the gold medal, saying; "The Australians have won it which they deserve – they've been sailing well. Good on them. Now we have to fight it out for the minor places. " "The plan tomorrow is exactly the same as today – get a good start, and have fun and sail well." Andrew May spoke about his experience this week so far; "It has been a pretty tough week. Rio is a place that throws you curve balls at you constantly – you know we've had some pretty good races, and some good races that have turned bad on us, and we've had some bad races."

"But, you know, the week has been pretty good. It has been a real challenge, a good bunch of people to sail with."

"It is getting near the end of the week now and some of the medals have been decided. It is starting to sink in – this is the last time this event will be on in the Paralympics and we're just taking up the atmosphere and enjoying the racing."

"We've got one to go – you know, it's pretty cool. I'm tired, but feeling pretty good." Speaking about what they need to do to get on the podium May said; "Tomorrow, we need to win. We have to go out there and get across the line first and hope that everything falls into place behind us. We're on the edge, so we're a bit dependant on what happens to other people – but we're definitely still there."

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