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SAILING: Helena sets sights on retaining her title
12:55pm Friday 6th September 2013 in Sport
TODAY marks the one-year anniversary since Britain’s sailors broke their Paralympic Games duck and won their first medals since the sport became part of the full Paralympic Games programme in 2000.
Portland’s Helena Lucas claimed an impressive victory in the one-person 2.4mR class on the 2012 waters in Weymouth and Portland, beating an otherwise all-male line-up to clinch her Paralympic gold and earn her place in the history books. Here the sailor reflects on the ‘special place’ she was in during the Games, and how life has changed for her since.
IT'S bizarre, a surreal kind of feeling, to think that it was a year ago that I won my Paralympic gold. I still have to pinch myself every now and then that it was me, it did happen to me.
Although the year since the Games has been a little low-key in terms of my 2.4mR sailing, I’ve been doing a lot of SB20 sailing this season. It’s been really good to have had the opportunity to sail with other people and sail in a different class – I’ve learned quite a lot from doing that.
At the end of the day it will make me a much better all-round sailor, which can only help. It also keeps me fresh and excited about the 2.4mR and Rio.
Looking back, it’s quite remarkable thinking how mentally strong I was at the Games. I was so, so focused.
I look back at the results and the windward mark roundings, and I think ‘wow!’.
I had no idea that I rounded the windward mark in fifth and sixth places – I thought I’d gone round in the top three every time!
I put a lot of work into having that correct mindset at the right time. Looking back it was amazing, and it was really interesting how long it took for it to wear off.
It was such a shame that there was no wind on the final day – I didn’t get the chance to seal my gold medal with a final race and have my celebration on the water.
That’s probably why in some ways it took that bit longer for the achievement to sink in. You don’t imagine you’re going to win your gold medal in the dinghy park having watched ‘Top Gun’ in the team container.
It was a little bit surreal and not quite how I visualised winning my gold medal, but it was still an amazing week and I have some fantastic memories from it.
Beijing was not a good Games for us and apart from the Sonar demonstration medal in 1996, Britain hadn’t ever won a medal for sailing at the Paralympics.
Bizarrely though, in spite of that, it didn’t feel a particularly pressured event. I knew that I’d done absolutely everything I could, I’d had the best preparation and had left no stone unturned.
All I could do was go out and do my best and it was either going to be good enough or it wasn’t. I knew that, and I knew whatever happened there would be no regrets and no ‘if onlys…’ If you go in with that sort of preparation then you don’t really feel that kind of pressure.
For me, being around in Wey-mouth and Portland for the Olympic Games beforehand was an invaluable experience and one which I really embraced.
I remember being in our Portland local – The Cove – during the Olympics watching Super Saturday and the place was packed.
It was a beautiful day and everybody was outside, and suddenly everybody rushed inside when the finals came on. Everyone was yelling at the TV, you couldn’t move for the number of people.
You were swept up in the whole emotion. Everyone was so excited and into it all. I’ll never forget that. There was an amazing appreciation of sport, success, and achievement it really hit home that day what it was we were involved with.
I think I have changed as a person since the Paralympics. I think I’m a lot more relaxed, having finally, after all these years, reached my goal and having done it at a home Games. You just know that no one can take that from you.
I definitely feel a lot calmer, there’s less of an intensity. I find it easier now to take disappointments like at the World Championship where you have gear failure or if things don’t quite go to plan. It’s easier to deal with and see it as a stepping stone to winning another gold medal. It’s not life and death.
No one in Paralympic sailing has ever managed to defend their Games title, so I guess for me that’s the kind of motivation now for Rio.
I feel so privileged to have achieved my dream at a home Games and I am aware that Rio will be different – it won’t have that same kind of feeling to it.
But I am looking forward to trying to defend my title and I think that’s the next goal.
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