By Mike Rowbottom

Alexandra Rickham_Niki_Birrell_Skud_June_10_June 9 - Britain's hopes of securing their first ever Paralympic sailing medal this year have risen with the achievement of their sailors securing two golds and a silver on the final day of racing at the ISAF World Cup event for the Paralympic classes in Weymouth and Portland.

All ten Olympic classes and three Paralympic classes were confined to shore on day five of the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, with Royal Yachting Association(RYA) event organisers taking the decision to call off all racing in Weymouth and Portland with strong winds throughout the day.

That left the SKUD duo and four-time world champions Alexandra Rickham (pictured above, left) and Niki Birrell (pictured above, right) along with the Sonar team of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas as gold medallists, while Helena Lucas (pictured below) narrowly missed out on a clean sweep for the GBR Paralympic team with a silver in the 2.4mR event.

With racing cancelled on the final two days as gusts of up to 40 knots battered the Olympic venue, the GBR boats had their fate decided on the six race series completed in the first three days of the regatta.

Rickham and Birrell had missed out on the Skandia Sail for Gold crown on their past three attempts, so they were well satisfied to finally clinch the gold medal and their third consecutive ISAF Sailing World Cup title two months prior to the Paralympic Games.

"It feels fantastic to finish the regatta with a gold medal here in Weymouth and Portland.

"We came here wanting to win this event and we have done, so that's great!

"Obviously we want to win the Paralympics in September so the overall result here wasn't as important as the Games, buts it's a great boost to have won.

"We had a similar situation in Hyères with a similar forecast at the end of the week and we didn't get to go racing.

Helena Lucas_June_10
"We were in silver position then and that was very frustrating, so when we saw the forecast for the end of this week, me and Alex made it our absolute top priority to be leading by Wednesday night because we thought this might happen."

Weymouth and Portland offered up light breeze on the opening day of the regatta, but Birrell explained you can never be certain of what the 2012 venue will throw your way.

"You can get anything down here in Weymouth and Portland.

"People always ask what the normal conditions are – this week we have had everything from 3-4 knots on Monday to it being blown off today with 40 knots so you can always expect the unexpected.

"The past few years we have always had to settle for silver so to walk away with gold is fantastic.

"There are still one or two areas of our sailing that were not doing as well as we need to be so we will be working on those for the next ten to eleven weeks.

"Hopefully we can get these fixed and tidy up on a few areas so we are as strong as we can be for the Paralympics."

Birrell concluded: "Britain's never had a medal in Paralympic sailing, there is a bit of pressure but we'll just carry on training, working hard, racing fast and see what's in store."

In the Sonar fleet, 2012 IFDS Worlds bronze medallists Robertson (pictured below, left), Stodel (pictured below, right) and Thomas (pictured below, centre) did enough earlier in the week to secure a hard-fought gold, finishing two points above the Dutch trio of Hessels-Rossen-Veen.

Gold in the 2.4mR event went to the Dutchman, Thierry Schmitter, with Skandia Team GBR's Lucas finishing level on points in second after the six race series.

John RobertsonHannah_Stodel_Stephen_Thomas_Sonar_June_10
"I'm obviously happy with the silver medal but at the same time a little frustrated as I was so close to the gold," Lucas said.

"I was in fourth in the last race on Wednesday which would have given me the gold but at the last minute I was piped over the line when the boat from Norway caught a good wave – it was so close and so frustrating as I kind of knew it was the last race of the regatta.

"But it's still good to medal and obviously its September that counts!

"This week has given me the opportunity to test all my kit in pretty much all the wind conditions which is a big tick of the box!

"I would certainly like to...think if we were given one more race I could have gone on to win gold this week.

"In the strong breeze I'm definitely quick and very quick downwind so hopefully with my speed it could have been a completely different story.

"However you can't control the weather unfortunately, so never mind!

"It's definitely made me even hungrier for the Paralympics finishing on equal points with the top boat and I have proved that I can do it even though I didn't sail the best regatta.

"Knowing that there are still areas that I can still improve on is great.

"It's September that really matters so hopefully it will all fall into place for me then," concluded Lucas.

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