Titles and Paralympic national selection are up for grabs when the 2016 Para World Sailing Championships begins at the International Sailing Centre Medemblik, Netherlands from 24 May to 28 May.
The 2.4 Norlin OD, SKUD18 and Sonar fleets sail in the waters of Medemblik with one eye on the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition in September and the chance to go in to the summer Games as world champions.
Leading the way in the SKUD18, Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesel Tesch (AUS) are current world champions and London 2012 Paralympic Games gold medallists who will be looking to continue that form in to the Rio summer showpiece to try and defend their title. But to do that, they first need to get past compatriots Amethyst Barnbrook and Brett Pearce and gain their nations selection, “The Para World Sailing Championships is the final Rio qualifier for Australia, and extremely important for our future Aussie Para class sailors,” explained Tesch.
Even though Fitzgibbon and Tesch have posted strong results in the major regattas, Tesch knows that the competition is tough, but also exciting, “Our Aussie team-mates and training partners are my favourites. The British always give us a good time, the Canadians are back on the podium, the local Netherlands team, Italians and Polish are also looking challenging. Both USA teams are looking good, and it will be great to race against the Israelis, Malaysians, Singaporeans and Brazilians too. I can't wait for the Worlds.”
There is a reason Tesch can't wait to get underway, “The Para World Sailing Champs are now the ultimate event on the international circuit until sailing is back in the Paralympic Games.”
Following the announcement that sailing was not to feature in the Paralympic program at Tokyo 2020, World Sailing and the Para World Sailing Committee have been working tirelessly to reinstate the sport for the Paralympic Games of 2024, and the Para World Sailing Championships takes on an even greater importance for the future of the sport.
With the Paralympic classes looking to grow and showcase the sport in events such as the Para Worlds, with the added importance, the variety of competition and with national selection at stake, you could be forgiven for thinking that there would be some nerves, “Our SKUD team is looking forward to sailing a good regatta. No results expectations,” said a matter-of-fact Tesch.
Chasing the relaxed Australian team are Great Britain's Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell. Although the pair can boast to be the most decorated SKUD18 sailors in the fleet holding five world titles from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as London 2012 bronze, they have been second best to their rivals over recent events. The Briton's will be determined to regain their world title and get one over on their rivals by firing a psychological shot ahead of Rio 2016, a shot which could help them improve on their previous Paralympic bronze.
Although they didn't win a Paralympic medal at London 2012, Italy's Marco Gualandris and Marta Zanetti have stayed together and used the experience they have gained as a team to improve their results throughout the quad. Gualandris and Zanetti took bronze at the 2015 World Championships and are capable of pushing for another medal in Medemblik.
Just beaten to a medal by the Italian team in the 2015 Championship, Netherlands' home nation sailors Rolf Schrama and Sandra Nap will hope that familiar waters can give them the extra edge over the competition to snatch a medal from a competitive field.
As Tesch outlined, there are a lot of teams in contention and medals will be hard to come by in an open field of SKUD18 teams and even then it may not be enough for another prize on offer, a place at Rio 2016. Needless to say, gold is the goal.
Racing in the SKUD18 commences on Tuesday 24 May in the Netherlands at 13:00 local time.
– Richard Aspland – World Sailing