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Birrell and Rickham take World Championship pole on penultimate day
10:00am Friday 30th August 2013 in Sport
DEFENDING SKUD World Champion Niki Birrell is still taking nothing for granted with one day of racing left at the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships in Kinsale, Ireland, in spite of a clean sweep of race wins yesterday.
One year to the day since the 2012 Paralympic Games got underway, at which Birrell and Alexandra Rickham claimed British bronze in the two-person SKUD class, the four-time World Champions made the most of their three-race day to win all three races and edge ahead to a three point lead.
With no racing due to light winds at the County Cork venue on Wednesday, the 27-year-old Birrell admitted Thursday was a ‘big day’ and was pleased with his and Rickham’s progress – especially as they’ve had a low-key year in terms of training and with just one SKUD regatta under their belts this year.
But the Knutsford sailor knows that today’s final fleet races will provide another tough test in their quest for a fifth straight world crown.
Birrell said: “We’ve got a three-point cushion, it’s shifty out there, everyone’s trying to go as fast as they can. “The Italians have rounded first round every single windward mark this week, so they’re obviously going well and we’re going to have to sail really well tomorrow to get the job done. We’ll see what happens!”
“You can definitely tell we’ve not been in the boat too much this year,” Birrell remarked. “Our boat handling is definitely not what it used to be!
“The pleasing thing is we’ve worked on some very specific things in the small bits of training we’ve done and they seem to be the things that are making the difference in getting us past the Italians downwind. “That’s pleasing but we definitely need to do more work!”
In the three-person Sonar fleet, two-time World Champions John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas sailed a steady 5,5,4 to improve to fourth overall, just three points behind the Australian trio in the bronze medal position.
“We’re definitely there or thereabouts,” Stodel commented. “If we could get off the startline we’d be laughing.”
“It’s nice to be back racing. We haven’t seen the foreign teams all winter because we’ve been training in Weymouth with our tuning crew, so this is the first time really back against the full fleet.
“We’ve got 18 Sonars which is more than we’ve ever had. It’s nice to see where we are. We’ve got some stuff to work on and we’ve got another World Championships next week, so hopefully we’ll make a few changes and be firing on all cylinders next week as well. We’ll see what happens,” Stodel concluded.
The French are sailing an absolute blinder at the moment, they’ve obviously been working pretty hard this winter – they’re ones to look at certainly – but it seems to be the normal suspects in the Sonar fleet. The top seven are all pretty similar to normal.”
In the one-person 2.4mR fleet, Paralympic Champion Helena Lucas’s fortunes improved as the day progressed.
The Southampton sailor was tenth in the first of the day’s three races, before picking up a second and a race win to conclude Thursday’s schedule with her in fifth overall, with Pevensey Bay’s Will Street right in tenth.
But for jumping the gun in the middle of today’s three races, Portland’s Megan Pascoe had an otherwise steady day with six and five sandwiching her disqualification. She’s currently placed 14th overall.
The first warning signal is scheduled for 10.55hrs today, with no races to be started after 2pm.
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