Australia dominates Paralympics as sport’s 2020 survival in doubt
Australia marked itself out as the dominant sailing nation in the Rio 2016 Paralympics, taking two Golds and one Silver medal. SKUD 18 sailors Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS) won nine races, discarding a 2nd place to take Gold with ease, and becoming the first Paralympic sailors ever to defend their title.
It was closer for silver, with John Mcroberts and Jackie Gay (CAN) just pipping Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) who take their second Bronze medal.
The Australian Sonar team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris also won gold with a race to spare, while USA’S Alphonsus Doerr and Canada’s Paul Tingley and crews took Silver and Bronze respectively.
There was disappointment for the British Sonar team of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas who scored three wins in succession, but also picked up a DSQ to finish 9th overall.
In the 2.4-metre Damien Seguin also became a double Paralympic gold medallist by defeating Matt Bugg of Australia, with Weymouth 2012 champion Helena Lucas finishing 3rd after her rudder picked up debris from Guanabara Bay.
This will be the last regatta at a Paralympic Games for at least eight years, as the sport was controversially deselected from the Paralympic Games for Tokyo 2020.
The International Olympic Committee cited three reasons for deselecting the sport: governance, financial reasons, and participation. World Sailing has since taken over management and funding of Paralympic sailing. Participation, however, is a major stumbling block and will need to increase globally if the sport is to be reinstated for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Between now and then the boats used in Paralympic competition will be reconsidered. Disabled sailing campaigner Geoff Holt says that the campaign to reinstate sailing has been boosted by an announcement that the Japanese Sailing Association will host a Paralympic-style World Cup event in 2020, either before or after the Paralympics themselves.
“But what they really have to do is to get to the magic 32 nations to regain the eligibility criteria from the International Paralympic Committee,” he says. Currently there are 26 acknowledged nations with active Paralympic racing. “IPC want to see a development programme, and a clear racing pathway and programme in each member nation.”
“My biggest concern is that for those who have been competing at elite level, there is no more funding, so they will just move into something else,” comments Holt. “Eight years is a lifetime in sport. I worry that momentum will be lost.”
Tesch and Fitzgibbon (AUS) Damien Seguin (FRA)
became the first Paralympic sailors to win back-to-back golds
Above: A second gold medal for Australia in the three-man Sonar Left:
took a second 2.4-metre gold.
Top: The SKUD 18 fleet under the iconic Christ the Redeemer Second top: