“At the Paralympics, anything could happen, so we’ve just to concentrate really on what we do and try to forget everyone else, at least until about mid-week and see what the scoreboard’s doing at that point.”
The last two times the Great Britain SKUD 18 team - Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell - have competed at Weymouth and Portland, the Paralympic sailing venue, they have won.
In the 2011 IFDS Sailing World Championships they topped the podium ahead of USA’s Jennifer French and J-P Creignou in second place and Australia’s Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, who came third.
And a few weeks ago, they won the Sail for Gold Regatta there, with the Australians taking bronze again and Canada’s John McRobberts and Stacie Louttit coming second.
“We’ve won the last two events in Weymouth, we’ve just got to win one more in a few weeks,” said Niki Birrell, who has been sailing with helmsman Alexandra Rickham since November 2007.
“It’s just all about the Paralympics,” he added.
With the Australian team also hot favourites in sailing, having won silver at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Birrell and Rickham see them as the ones to beat. Expectations on the home team are running high and they’re determined to avoid a repeat of Beijing where they came fifth.
“From the results it looks like the Australians will be our biggest rivals,” said Birrell, whose wealth of sailing experience, having competed in many different classes since the age of 9, is one of the biggest strengths of the team.
“At the Paralympics, anything could happen, so we’ve just to concentrate really on what we do and try to forget everyone else, at least until about mid-week and see what the scoreboard’s doing at that point,” he said.
“I think we’re quite consistent,” added Rickham “Because at the end of the day it doesn’t come from just one race necessarily. It’s over 10 or 11 races, so it’s just making sure that we’re consistent.”
Their training has been going well, and now it is all about putting the finishing touches.
“We’re just chugging away and working on anything that we feel needs more focus, but we’re not making any massive changes at this point,” said Rickham, who Birrell says brings attention to detail to the team.
“We’ve pretty much locked off most of our equipment now because we don’t want any surprises at the Games. It decreases the number of variables if we stick with what we’ve got,” Rickham added.
The SKUD 18 team have, along with their teammates in the Sonar and 2.4mR classes, been able to get plenty of practice at the Paralympic venue, something they hope will give them an edge over their rivals.
“It’s been great to have access to the venue for all this time,” said Birrell. “Obviously it gives us quite an advantage… It’s not like we’ll get a surprise when we get here now.”