Great Britain ready to sail for gold at Worlds

Alexandra Rickahm and Niki Birrell, as well as Helena Lucas all have a shot at winning gold at next week’s IFDS Sailing World Championships. 23 Aug 2013
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell

Great Britain's Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell compete in the SKUD two-person keelboat class.

ⒸRichard Langdon/British Sailing Team
By British Sailing

“We haven’t spent that much time in the boat this year, but we have been focusing on some bits and pieces quite significantly over the year which we hope will benefit our performance at the Worlds.”

Paralympic bronze medallists Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell of Great Britain insist they won’t have it all their own way when they attempt a fifth straight world title at next week’s IFDS Sailing World Championships in Kinsale, Ireland, which run from 26-30 August.

Rickham and Birrell are the sole British SKUD pairing among the eight-boat British sailing team contingent at the five-day regatta, where Paralympic champion Helena Lucas and 2.4mR Open Worlds bronze medallist Megan Pascoe and the Sonar trio of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas will also be vying for the podium spots across the three classes.

The 31-year-old Rickham, and Birrell, 27, have had their names etched on the SKUD World Championship trophy every year since 2009.

But having competed at just one regatta together this year – albeit a gold medal-winning one at the SKUD Europeans in Switzerland – they’re taking nothing for granted in the pursuit of their fifth world crown.

“We haven’t spent that much time in the boat this year, but we have been focusing on some bits and pieces quite significantly over the year which we hope will benefit our performance at the Worlds,” Rickham explained.

“We are just looking to really enjoy the event but also use this regatta as a marker for the new 2016 campaign. We haven’t had many events this year so this is definitely our performance regatta of the year.”

Birrell added: “Over the past year we have done a little bit of SKUD sailing, improved a few things and analysed a few things from the Games which has been useful.

“We have also spent some time apart – Alex has been off sailing in the 2.4mR while I’ve been sailing some able-bodied classes as well. We have just been trying to broaden our sailing experience and knowledge over the last year but still remembering at the same time that we are SKUD sailors.

“This is going to be our first big event since the Games so we are going to see how we are going and where we are at compared to other competitors and kick on from there really.”

Lucas and Pascoe are expected to be among the front-runners in the race for silverware in the one-person 2.4mR event.

The 27-year-old Pascoe, a bronze medallist at the 2010 IFDS Worlds, has been quick out of the blocks at the start of this Rio 2016 cycle, claiming podium finishes at all five international regattas she’s contested in 2013, including victories at the Miami World Cup, and the Delta Lloyd and Sail for Gold EUROSAF Champions Cup events in the Netherlands and her adoptive hometown of Weymouth and Portland.

Lucas, the 2012 gold medallist, has had a slightly more low-key post-Games year in the 2.4mR class, winning three silver medals on the circuit but also opting to build her racing and tactical prowess sailing other crewed classes this season.

She’s secured three podium finishes at previous IFDS World Championships, the most recent one being bronze on home waters at Weymouth and Portland in 2011.

Meanwhile the Sonar crew of Robertson, Stodel and Thomas, are predicting tough competition at their tenth IFDS Worlds as a team.

“In terms of competition the fleet is going to be strong,” Thomas said. “I think there are 20 boats registered so far which doesn’t seem a lot but that is actually more than the Paralympic Games.”

“There are some new crews coming along to the event as well with the Kiwis who have entered, three GBR boats which is awesome and the Aussies have travelled as well.

“Obviously the Paralympic champions will be there, the Dutch, and we will be looking to try and relate ourselves to them and hopefully put one up on them.”

In addition to Britain’s top-flight teams will be up-and-coming Podium Potential squad members Will Street, Carol Dugdale and John Brooker in the one-person 2.4mR event, and the trio of Craig Wood, Steven Palmer and Luke Sinnott in the Sonar.

A 10-race series is scheduled for the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships, with two races per day from 26-30 August set to determine the new world champions.