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Seguin claims gold in Flamengo Beach thriller at the Paralympic Sailing

by Richard Aspland, World Sailing 18 Sep 2016 07:48 BST 12 September 2016

In a finale fitting on the setting, the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition came to a spectacular close with the medals decided in front of a sell-out crowd lining the shores of Flamengo Beach.

Racing on the Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) race course, onlookers were treated to a thrilling climax in which some medals were settled by just seconds.

After 11 races under the backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, the stakes were high for a chosen few sailors who had the opportunity to grab a Paralympic medal. But while some would feel the elation, some would inevitable miss out.

The final gold to be decided went to France's Damien Seguin who joined Australia's Two Person and Three Person teams who wrapped up the gold the previous day.

One Person Keelboat – 2.4 Norlin OD

France's Damien Seguin became a double Paralympic gold medallist when he crossed the line in fourth position in front of the only sailor that could mathematically beat him, London 2012 gold medallist, Great Britain's Helena Lucas.

Straight in to the mixed zone to speak to the waiting press, Seguin said in his usual cool, calm demeanor, "I'm just happy. I'm just happy as I have worked a lot since my fourth place in London 2012. I was sure I could do it, and I did."

The French sailor never doubted his own talent and with a history of international titles to back it up, the confidence was well founded, "Of course I expecting to do it. I'm a competitor, so I always go for first place. My start to the regatta was not very good, but every day I improved my racing. I always say that the regatta is 11 races, not 10. And by the 11th race I got to first overall."

Seguin's French charm and likeable manner will make him a popular winner, but for Seguin he also had some familiar faces watching on, people close to his heart, "I have an association in France for people with disabilities and they came to Rio this week. They were at the beach every day to support me. It was amazing. This association is for encouraging people with disabilities to go sailing."

Hoping to inspire people with disabilities, Seguin sailed consistently high throughout the regatta with his lowest placed finish a sixth.

Another consistent sailor, Australia's Matt Bugg, won silver thanks to a bullet in the final race of the competition. That win leapfrogged Bugg in to the silver spot and dropped former champion Lucas in to bronze as she finished down the fleet in 15th.

Threatening Lucas' place on the podium was USA's Dee Smith. Any further up than the sixth place he crossed the line in and it could have a very anxious moment for the Briton. Luckily the points she had built up through the early race days stood her in good stead for another Paralympic medal.

Two Person Keelboat – SKUD18

Sailing in the SKUD18 fleet were the only sailors in history to defend a Paralympic title. That honour was bestowed on Australia's Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch with two races to spare in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition. Sailing on day five was just a victory lap. A victory lap they still finished second place in.

Fighting behind the dominant Aussies were John McRoberts and Jackie Gay (CAN), Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) and Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki (POL).

The Polish world champions approached the start line knowing they had to put boats between themselves and both the Canadian and Great British teams. They sailed perfectly to take the bullet in the final race, but with only the Australian gold medallists behind, it was not to be for Gibes and Cichocki. They had finished fourth overall.

McRoberts and Gay had the advantage over their British rivals on the overnight leaderboard. But from the start of the race, they fell behind. In the latter stages of the race they came back alongside the British for a wrestling match, which also included a potential Italian spanner in the works.

The to-ing and fro-ing between the three teams continued right to the end. Canada crossed in third for silver. With the Polish team taking the bullet, Great Britain had to stay ahead of the battling Italians to take the fourth. They did, and with that the bronze medal.

Knowing that they had the silver medal, McRobert and Gay had time to reflect on the stress leading up to the Games which had their participation in doubt, "We sailed very well and came in well rested. Jackie had a small injury beforehand and there was a time where we were unsure what the future would hold," explained Mc Roberts.

Gay interuppted, "I only got signed off to sail the day before the practice race at 1o'clock. Until then we weren't sure. I fell off the boat and hit the trailer with my head quite badly."

McRoberts continued, "Jackie's a real trooper. She's got real pain threshold so when she says she's in pain, she's in major pain. She was in major pain. Thanks to the Canadian team, they took great care of us. They were a blessing."

The threat of missing out may have been a blessing in disguise for the Canadians. It changed their attitude to the whole competition, "We had a really good start," began McRoberts, "Normally I can't eat or sleep but that wasn't the case. I put myself into the head space that I was going to enjoy the experience. A lot of times I put a lot of pressure on myself and that doesn't really do anything for me except negative thoughts. Sailing is a sport where you need to be loosey goosey and it's all about feel.

"Something special happened to us. We blessed Cristo [Christ the Redeemer] every day, had our patience hats on and communicated well."

From Canadian belief to Great British relief. Bronze medallist Rickham said, "We are relieved. It's been a long, very hard week for us. We came here hoping to contest for the gold but that slipped away quite quickly. We're so happy to get a medal. It was close to being silver but the Sugarloaf course just didn't play out for us. John [McRoberts] and Jackie [Gay] sailed well and really deserved that medal. We're just elated. It's great to be able to come away from our second Games with another medal."

Three Person Keelboat – Sonar

With the gold wrapped up in the Sonar by the Australian team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris with a race to spare, it was down to the battle for silver and bronze.

Mathematically there were still quite a few teams left in the fight, but USA and Canada, sitting in second and third respectively, had the advantage before the final race got underway. That advantage paid dividends in the end as Alphonsus Doerr, Hugh Freund and Bradley Kendell (USA) confirmed silver with Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes (CAN) taking bronze, but only just.

USA set their stall out early and headed for the top end of the fleet, they knew where they needed to be. At the half way point they hit the front, and they stayed there to claim a race win and the silver medal.

Kendall will take to the podium with his teammates, but he had to endure a restless night as he knew the pressure was on, "Not much sleep last night, not much sleep. Woke up in the middle of the night and certainly started thinking about the race and how we were going to get out there and manage it and what we had to do. We wanted to win that race and go out in style and that's what we do. But not much sleep.

Freund bounced in with enthusiasm, "I slept great last night and woke up early and did some yoga." "Good for you," said Kendall. The sleep patterns may be different but the collective result was the same.

Claiming the 2016 Para World Sailing Championships earlier in the year had given the Americans the experience to call upon when faced with a similar final race situation, "We went into today knowing we'd had one rough day and four pretty good ones and we were in the same position we were in before the world championship with everything to play for. We knew if we sailed the boat the way the three of us know how to, everything would work out. It was really good execution from every person on the team."

Race execution paid, but there was also a little help from another source as Kendall called in an old 'family favour', "I'm half a New Zealander, my dad was from there. The Kiwis sort of owed us a favour from the other day. They really fought with us at the end. They weren't giving us too much. We knew we had to go straight to the finish line as fast as we could and we were still working on sail trim on the reach. That's what it was all about."

New Zealand's Richard Dodson, Andrew May and Chris Sharp rounded the first mark back in eighth position, but from there they charged to the front to worry the Canadians. The Kiwis pushed USA right to the finish but missed out on the bullet by just one second.

Further back the Canadians weren't making life easy for themselves. From the start they fell to the back and had to pick off a few boats and make their way through the field in the hunt for a medal.

USA had beaten New Zealand to first by one second and Canada eventually pipped France by one second to get seventh. That collective two seconds had shaped the medal podium as Canada and New Zealand where now tied on overall points. The Canadians won on a countback thanks to two race wins to the New Zealanders one.

For Campbell, it was all a bit too close for comfort, "We were unsure on the results and it probably took three or four minutes to find out where we finished, but we didn't know until our coach told us. We knew it was tight and when racing was done it was a pressure release."

Teammate Lutes summed up for the team what the being on the podium means to them, with a traditional culinary reference, "It's a treat, it's a treat," he chuckled. "We love racing and that's why we do it. No matter what, happy to be here but on a cake, icing is nice and this is the icing on the cake."

Australia medals in every Paralympic class with 2 Gold & 1 Silver (from Australian Sailing)

Australia has won medals in all three Paralympic sailing classes, with Matt Bugg taking the Silver medal in the 2.4mR class overnight.

Going into the final day of competition, the Aussies had secured Gold in both the Sonar and SKUD18 classes, but the medals were still wide open in the 2.4mR class.

An overnight protest saw Australia's Matt Bugg disqualified from race 10 in the 2.4mR and as a result he moved from 1st to 3rd overall coming into today's final race. With the standings, Bugg had to protect the Bronze from USA sailor, Dee Smith who was only two points behind. He was also a long shot at moving up in either Silver or Gold, but had to have 10 places between he and the competitors from Great Britain and France.

Bugg got caught up in a start line incident with USA's Smith, and was back in the fleet in the early stages of the race, but sailed well to move back up into first place by the third mark rounding. He eventually crossed the finish line in first place, then the nervous wait began to see where France and Great Britain would finish. France crossed the finish line in fourth, while Great Britain finished back in 13th place – enough to move Bugg up into the Silver medal position.

"I've done it pretty tough this week," said Bugg. "I didn't get a lot of sleep last night (after the protest) and I really went into this race in a tough position. I can't be too disappointed with the result.

"I had a good experience in London and I saw my team mates up there getting a gold medal and I decided that's what I wanted. To come here and get a Silver is an achievement and I'm really happy with that."

In the Sonar class our Aussie crew of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris sailed today's final race after wrapping up the Gold yesterday with a race to spare. The Aussies were jubilant with their Gold medal winning victory and reflective of the future ahead, with sailing not included on the Paralympic schedule for Tokyo 2020.

"The Games is what it's all about and it's nice to crack it at the big one," said Harrison.

"It's a good one to win," said Boaden. "The first Paralympics (Sonar class) was won by an Australian team, and it's nice that the last was won by an Australian team too."

When asked about what the future held, Boaden responded "We'll get back to Australia and look at what the options are and make a decision from there. If sailing was included in Tokyo, we would have stayed on, but now we go back to 'normal' lives."

Australia's back to back Paralympic champions in the SKUD18, Daniel Fitzgibbon & Liesl Tesch also enjoyed their final race, crossing the finish line in second place. The Aussies wrapped up the Gold medal with two races to spare yesterday after a dominant display all week.

It was business as usual today" said Tesch.

"We keep the same processes day in day out," said Fitzgibbon. "Although I felt nervous even though we'd won it already.To race on that race course – the most difficult one in the world, to get the scorecard we had and to be retiring at the end of it, is a fairytail for me."

"I want to thank Liesl for the journey," said Fitzgibbon. "We've had the highs and the lows, and the wins and all the losses. But what a way to retire! We couldn't do better than that!"

It's really important to get sailing back into the Paralympics,: said Tesch. "We are getting more and more people involved and building the numbers in international competition. It's really important we get sailing back in to 2024!"

Sonar Silver for Doerr, Kendell and Freund at Paralympic Games (from U.S. Sailing)

With a victory in the final race of the event, U.S. Paralympic Team sailors Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine) have won silver medals in the Sonar class, the three-person Paralympic keelboat. For all three sailors it is the first Paralympic medal of their careers. Gold in the Sonar was won by the Australian team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris. Bronze was secured by Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes of Canada. Several teams were in the running for the podium coming into the 6th and final day of the sailing events of Rio 2016, but Team USA saved their best race for last to win silver in dramatic fashion.

"Rick, Brad, and Hugh sailed a great series and earned their silver medal today by racing smart and fast in the final race, on a difficult course and under pressure," said Josh Adams, Managing Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing, who served as Team Leader for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. "They've worked incredibly hard as a team over the years and deserve this result."

Doerr, Kendell and Freund entered Rio 2016 as the reigning Para Sailing World Champions and had high hopes for a podium performance. Doerr, the helmsman, is the longest-tenured athlete on the U.S. Sailing Team, having campaigned for the Paralympic Games almost continuously since 1998. Rio 2016 was his second Paralympic appearance following an 8th place performance in Beijing 2008 with different teammates. For Kendell and Freund, Rio 2016 is their first career appearance at the Games.

"We came into today in a similar position as we had at the World Championship earlier this year, with everything to play for on the final day," said Freund on the dock. "We really sailed the way the three of us know how to sail this boat."

Kendell said that it was hard to put into words what this means for the three tight-knit athletes. "2016 has been unbelievable, and this is the year we've worked so hard for. Coming in as World Champions, you don't want to let it get inside your head, but you know at least that you have a chance to medal."

The team also paid tribute to their coach, Mike Ingham (Rochester, N.Y.) who worked intensively with Doerr, Kendell and Freund for the final two year years of the Rio 2016 quadrennium. "We had talent on our team, but Mike figured out how to make it all work," said Freund. "If you look at our trajectory, it's a huge testament to his ability as a coach to get the most out of people." Ingham holds over 20 U.S. national and North American one-design sailing titles, and helped Doerr, Kendell and Freund win their first world championship as a team.

Doerr (56), a surgeon in his professional life, sustained an injury in a 1992 car accident that left him wheelchair-bound. Doerr had grown up sailing in New Jersey, but when he heard that sailing was to be a demonstration sport at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, it started him on a new and eventful path in the sport. Doerr narrowly missed qualifying for Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, and Athens 2004 before joining the U.S. Paralympic Team at Beijing 2008. As was the case in Brazil, Doerr entered the Games in China as the reigning Para Sailing World Champion, but he and his team could not find their way to the podium. Undaunted, Doerr teamed up with Kendell and Freund for a run at London 2012, and again narrowly missed selection.

Despite this setback, the three teammates profoundly enjoyed sailing together, and committed to campaigning for Rio 2016. Doerr's longevity at the highest levels of adaptive sailing, as well as his success, makes his story all the more remarkable. As sailing has been removed from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games by the IPC, it is possible that Rio 2016 represented the last chance for the three sailors to accomplish their long-held goal.

Kendell (35) comes from a family of professional sailors, and his father Bruce got him started in the sport at age 7. A 2003 plane crash claimed the lives of his father and a friend, and necessitated the amputation of both of Kendell's legs above the knee. Kendell also sustained significant burns across his body, and the healing process was both long difficult. Getting back into the sport of sailing through adaptive competition proved therapeutic for the native Floridian, and a way to both remember and honour his father. Now a father himself, Kendell has said that long weeks on the road away from his family is the toughest aspect of the Paralympic path.

Freund (28) hails from the coast of Maine, and like his teammates is a lifelong sailor. During a 2007 ski trip, Freund discovered a problem with his leg that eventually revealed itself as an aggressive form of bone cancer. Freund survived the illness, but his right foot was amputated during his freshman year at Roger Williams University. Following a suggestion from his college sailing coach, Amanda Callahan (Bristol, R.I), Freund began competing in adaptive sailing, and quickly qualified for the U.S. Sailing Team. In an interesting twist of fate, one of Freund's earliest coaches at the local Harraseeket Yacht Club in Maine was Dave Hughes (Miami, Fla.) who competed on the same race courses in August as part the Rio 2016 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team.

In addition to their 2016 accomplishments, the American Sonar team has amassed an impressive list of successes during their six years of racing together. The trio has won five medals at Sailing World Cup Miami, North America's premier Olympic and Paralympic classes regatta, since joining forces. In 2015, Doerr, Kendell and Freund won the Sunbrella Golden Torch Award in Miami, given to the top-performing American boat at the event. They were the first Paralympic-class athletes to gain this distinction in the 26-year history of the event.

4th on countback - So close for Kiwi Para-Sailors in Rio (from Yachting New Zealand)

New Zealand's Paralympic sailing crew has finished Rio 2016 agonisingly close to the podium, drawn on points for third, but separated on count-back to close the regatta in 4th place.

In today's final race the kiwi crew of Richard Dodson, Andrew May and Chris Sharp put in a brilliant performance to cross the line in 2nd place, and were left watching the rest of the fleet come across the finish line knowing that the order in which they placed would determine their fate.

In the end, Canada came through to pass France on the final short leg which was just enough to ensure equal points with New Zealand in the overall standings, and the Canadian's took the bronze on countback.

Skipper Rick Dodson spoke after racing; "So after yesterday, which wasn't that great, Andrew our coach sat us down and said 'what are we going to do today?' And I said, just try to win, get one out of the bag, win."

"Then we went left on the first beat and we were about 8th, and then we went right on the next beat and got up to the lead and then we carried on racing and we got second, so it was a good day."

"We didn't win a medal, we got 4th, but for me I think that's good. You know, I'm happy because we have never been here before. It's good to come here to see all the Para-athletes – the runners and the swimmers and more. It's a great event."

Asked to think retrospectively and whether there is anything they would have done differently, Dodson said, "There are. There are races where we could have done better, and we lost the medal in that last race but the things about regatta, always at the end of the day there are things you could do better, but we're happy with 4th, we're happy with what we've got."

"It would have been nice to medal, it would have been fun, but we didn't and that's that. We got 4th and so you live with that. You've just got to live with what you've got.

Dodson spoke about the fact that sailing won't be included in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and his desire to build this discipline of the sport back in New Zealand.

"For us, for our team, for us to carry on sailing you can do it, but there won't be Para-sailing in Japan. So I think we can do it in Auckland, we can do a regatta, get everyone down to Auckland. Personally I want to build it, we don't have many young people doing it at the moment and we should have. We're not number one in the world, and we should be up the top there with all the other sports I was talking about."

Dodson, talked about the quality of the competition and the level of talent in the Sonar fleet in Rio.

"You would think when they're para-sailors they're not that great – but they are good. We've had a lot of fun. They are very, very competitive."

"I've been lucky, I've sailed America's Cups and the World Series' and these guys are as good as they are, so these guys are good."

"Once you get in the boat you forget that [we are para-sailors]. If I'm annoyed, or they're annoyed with me, we say it. We can forget everything on the boat, we can all be normal and very competitive, good sailors and so are the guys we race against."

Known as Kiwi Gold Sailing Team, the combination of Rick Dodson, Andrew May and Chris Sharp have had an outstanding week in Rio.

Competing in the notoriously tricky conditions of Rio's close-in courses, the team finished day one lying second, dipping to fourth after day two, back up into third after day 3 at the mid-way mark. Lying sixth after day's four and five required an all-out final push from the kiwis, and they delivered that today with a great final race.

The Sonar three-person keelboat has provided incredibly tight racing with switching positions among the fleet thought the six day regatta, and the Kiwi team came into the last race on day six only five points off bronze and six off silver, with seven boats fighting for the last two podium positions.

Support from New Zealand, for the popular team has been overwhelming with messages flooding in. "Such a close finish is hard," says Celia Sneddon, part of the Kiwi Gold Support Team in Rio, "however the team is happy with the way they finished the regatta."

"The support from you and the New Zealand yachting community has been what has kept the team's fighting spirit high this week. From the start of the campaign four years ago our friends, family and sailing community have showed their faith in this team."

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