Sailing Paralympics: Everything to play for in Skud-18 keelboats

CLOSE RACING: Niki Birrell and Alexandra Rickham in the thick of it as they campaign their Skud-18

CLOSE RACING: Niki Birrell and Alexandra Rickham in the thick of it as they campaign their Skud-18

First published in News

FIERCELY tight racing in light breezes saw Australia, Britain and the USA jostle for the top three positions in the Skud-18 two-person keelboats.

With five races still to go until the silverware is decided, Portland ’s Alex Rickham and Niki Birrell are poised in second place and determined to stay in the running for gold.

Britain has not won a Paralympic sailing medal, since the sport was officially introduced in Sydney 2000 but the home Games looks set to make history.

Rickham and Birrell won the first race and claimed top of the leaderboard, with their Australian rivals Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch finishing close behind and the USA team of Jen French and JP Creignou coming third.

In the second bout Australia won and resumed the top spot, while USA finished second and the Portlanders came third.

Helm Rickham, 30, said: “We’re obviously happy with that, we’ve been aiming for top threes each day, obviously this keeps us on track.

“One point off Australia – we’re still battling it out with them and the US.

“It was a long day with a lot of waiting around then it being so warm.”

Rickham said Portland’s mixed conditions worked well for them as they were good all-rounders.

She added that support from family and friends was spurring them on.

Crew Birrell, 26, said he had ‘hundreds of people’ down from Manchester to support him, and it was ‘amazing’ to have that backing.

Describing yesterday’s races, he said: “The first race, we were absolutely delighted with that.

“We sailed really well, got a nice start and then stayed clear in front, on the last run our boat caught some weed so that slowed us down and it got a bit tight but it was a very good race from us.

“The second race was a touch frustrating, we got back into contention and were up to second at one point but unfortunately the Americans passed us.”

He added: “We’ve five races to go, we’re one point off the lead and everything still to play for.

“There’s a good gap between third and fourth, it would be a bit punchy to say that the medals have been decided yet.

“It’s really important Alex and I stay at least within one point of the lead, we need to keep it in our own hands until Thursday so we can go out and win it.”

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