Australian SKUD crew Liesl Tesch hopes she and Dan Fitzgibbon’s performance at the International Association of Disabled Sailing (IFDS) Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 this week will set her up on the path for Paralympic gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games last yer - an achievement which would complete a unique Paralympic medal set, having already won three Paralympic medals in wheelchair basketball!
The 42-year-old high school teacher from New South Wales, and helmsman Fitzgibbon moved to within two points of overnight leaders, Britain’s Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell on day two of the IFDS Worlds at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, atoning for a disappointing day one display on Sunday with two race wins on Monday.
Tesch only started Paralympic sailing in January, having made her name in her home country as part of the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team that won Paralympic silver medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 and bronze at Beijing 2008. But since taking up sailing and teaming up with Fitzgibbon earlier this year, the pair have won the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, in their first ever event together, as well as Skandia Sail for Gold last month.
Now Tesch, who also competed at Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996, has just one ambition; to win the Paralympic gold that’s missing from her collection. She hopes a switch in sport and a medal at the IFDS Worlds this week will go a long way to helping her cause.
Tesch said: “I want that gold now next year; everything in sailing’s happened so fast. Because of the wheelchair basketball I know what performance sport is all about so now I’m just trying to put that experience to use in sailing. I’m still getting used to what to wear on the water though! Sunday was rubbish; we don’t have much light stuff at home so on Monday we decided to race our own race instead of playing games with the others, get some clean air, and it worked well. The boat felt like it was going properly!”
Defending champions Rickham and Birrell got off to a perfect start on Sunday, with two wins. But during the first race on Monday, their spinnaker sheet got caught round the spinnaker pole hindering their ability to hoist their kite downwind.
Tesch added: “I was telling Dan ‘Something’s gone wrong with Niki’s spinnaker!’ That couldn’t have really happened better for us after our big points drop on Sunday but tomorrow’s another day and we have to take each race as it comes.”
Despite the spinnaker issue seeing them post an eighth in that race, the Brits recovered to finish second in the second race of the day to maintain their overall lead. Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett (USA), who have won silver at the last two Worlds, lay third.
Defending World 2.4mR champion, Thierry Schmitter (NED), also put a disappointing day one behind him to win both day two races and move to the top of the single-handed keelboat class leaderboard.
Schmitter said: “I’m happier than Sunday; there was a little bit more wind so I was clear in my head what I had to do tactically and strategically. To be back in the race for the title I had to really be in the top three on Monday so I worked hard for it. The game is starting now. I’m first but it really is the minimum difference in points and now the battle really starts. I’m back on track and I start with a fresh mind tomorrow.”
Overnight leader Helena Lucas picked up a second in the opening race of the day but followed that with a 10th enabling three sailors to leapfrog her. The USA’s Mark LeBlanc holds firm in second overall with Lucas’ Skandia Team GBR teammate Megan Pascoe in third.
The race for the Sonar title is panning out exactly as anticipated with the top eight boats engaged in a ding-dong battle for supremacy. Skandia Team GBR’s John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas built on a moderate but hard-fought opening day with a fifth and first on Monday, propelling them to the top of the standings.
The IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 are being organised, and run, by the RYA, supported by UK Sport. Eleven races are scheduled in total for each class (two races per day Sunday-Thursday and one race on Friday 8 July). Racing is set to resume at 10.55am on Tuesday .