TEARS of frustration turned to smiles of jubilation for Britain’s four-time world champion sailors who realised bronze at the home Games marked triumph not tragedy.
The hugely successful Skud-18 keelboat duo of Alex Rickham and Niki Birrell , teamed up in 2007 and finished fifth at the Beijing Games but have since been a dominant force in the Paralympic class since.
They finished third in the 11-boat fleet, while their Australian rivals of Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch took gold and the USA team Jen French and JP Creignou claimed silver after a lack of breeze put paid to final race hopes.
Birrell, 26, said: “On Wednesday I was devastated because I have unbelievably high expectations of Alex and I, and I believed I’d made some mistakes which I never like to do.
“But I suddenly realised it’s the home Games, we’ve medalled at every single event we’ve competed at over the last four years except one. That’s unbelievable in four years.
“I realised I was lucky and everything was all right in the world.”
He added: “I’m just happy to be taking something home, so many people have done so much hard work to help me and Alex and it’s brilliant to give them something back.
“We’d like to thank our family, friends, tuning partners, coach, the RYA and everyone who has made it possible, my parents and brother, everyone who took time off work to watch us sail.
“It really, really helped to keep me sane this week.
“I know they’re all really proud of what we’ve done.”
The pair congratulated their teammate Helena Lucas and said her gold resulted from a ‘stellar performance’.
Helm Rickham, 30, said: “We’re so proud of her.
“This is the most important event to medal at and we’re delighted to have something to take back and show for all our hard work.
“It’s nice just to get a medal for Paralympic sailing in Britain, we haven’t done the job for the last few Games.
“I’m proud to be part of that contingent who managed to break the duck.”
She said it was too early to say if they would be campaigning for Rio but added: “There is some unfinished business there so we’ll see.”
Rickham said the London 2012 Paralympic Games had been a coming of age for how the world views disabled athletes.
She said: “No other Paralympics has sold this many tickets, basically London has smashed it in terms of everything to do with Paralympic and disabled sport.
“Now it’s for the rest of the world to catch up.
“I hope Rio ignites that as well when the flame is handed over to them so it keeps getting bigger and bigger.
“People have realised Paralympians are elite athletes, we’re not here to have a laugh, we get as obsessive and excited about sport, it’s about the same things as the Olympics .
“London’s done us proud.”