Australians to spearhead SKUD18 pack at Para World Sailing Championships
by Daniel Smith - ISAF
The 2015 Para World Sailing Championships will see 142 sailors from 31 nations compete across three Paralympic events in Williamstown, Melbourne, Australia from 27 November to 3 December.
World Championship titles and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games places are at stake with racing taking place out of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria. A number of Paralympic medallists and World Champions make up the starters in the 2.4mR, SKUD18 and Sonar fleets.
London 2012 Paralympic Games gold medallists Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesel Tesch (AUS) will spearhead the 18-boat SKUD18 fleet in Melbourne and come into the event on an unbeaten run. After a short break following London 2012 the pair were back in the SKUD18 at the 2014 World Championships in Nova Scotia, Canada where they took their first world title together. Since then, the pair have been a mainstay at the top of the podium in the last 12 months winning gold at Sailing World Cup Melbourne and Miami as well as the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Medemblik, the Netherlands.
Sailing on home waters, holding an unbeaten run, the odds look heavily stacked in the Australians favour and Tesch remained confident, “Melbourne is one of our favourite waterways in the world and the event will be another great positive step in our Paralympic preparation. And no pressure on us as the defending World Champions…. well, the big target will be on our back after our Paralympic Gold medal first, then 2014 World Champion and our season so far, so watch this space.
“It’s absolutely fantastic to have the Worlds Championships here in Australia and it’s quite an honour to have it on beautiful Port Phillip. It will be the chance for Australians to have a look at top level, fantastic racing.
“Hopefully we’ll get some fans to come out and see some great Paralympic sailing out here for the first time. It would be nice to get some Melburnians to come out on the accessible boats, to come and have a look and hopefully also to get some Paralympians from other sports out, to come and see one of the best sports.”
Of the 18-teams in Williamstown, just four remain together following the London 2012 Paralympic Games and that experience could prove vital in Williamstown.
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) are the most decorated SKUD18 sailors in the fleet and hold five world titles, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as London 2012 bronze. In recent times they have played second fiddle to the Australians but in Fitzgibbon and Tesch’s backyard, there is no better arena to beat them on the Road to Rio and they will be up for the challenge.
Italy’s Marco Gualandris and Marta Zanetti remain together following London 2012 and will be pushing for the podium. Singapore’s Jovin Tan and Desiree Lim also retain their partnership and whilst they’re capable of a podium finish, Paralympic qualification will be their main focus after they opted out of sailing at the first qualifier.
At the 2014 World Championships Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Italy and the United States of America qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition. As host nation, Brazil are guaranteed a spot on the Rio 2016 meaning that five remaining places are up for grabs at the 2015 Para World Sailing Championships.
Seven nations head to Melbourne with expectations of taking one of those five places which will make for an interesting week across the 11 race series.
Paralympic experience from Israel’s Zahavi Hagar, New Zealand’s Tim Dempsey, and Malaysia’s Nurul Amilin Balawi could play key as they sail with new crews for the 2015 Worlds but teams from Spain, Netherlands, Poland and the experienced Singaporeans will ensure a stern test.
The SKUD18 fleet will start racing at 13:00 local time on Saturday 28 November and will conclude racing on Thursday 3 December.