Aussies claim Gold in Rio

by World Sailing (as amended by SKUD18)

Australia’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch have defended their Gold Medal in the SKUD18 class at the Rio Paralympics with two races to spare.

Before day five started, Fitzgibbon and Tesch had already posted a remarkable six race wins and two second place finishes to put a 15-point gap between them and their nearest rivals from Canada and Great Britain.

Regardless of what John McRoberts and Jackie Gay (CAN) and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) did in race nine, the Aussies only needed to finish in the top four to ensure an unassailable lead, guaranteeing gold.

Almost predictably they finished with yet another race win to cap an emphatic title defense with the silver and bronze medals to be decided.

Fitzgibbon now boasts a Paralympic haul of two gold medals and one silver in the SKUD18, a run that started at Beijing 2008 when he sailed with Rachael Cox.

Partner Tesch won two silvers and a bronze in Wheelchair Basketball before teaming up with Fitzgibbon and winning back to back sailing gold medals.

From start to finish, Fitzgibbon and Tesch have made the head of the fleet their own. From ten races they have eight wins and two second place finishes to sit on 10 points overall with a lead of 21 points over John McRoberts and Jackie Gay (CAN) in second. They wrapped up the gold with two races to spare.

But just how have they done it, for Tesch the inspiration comes from one man, “Australian sailing legend John Bertrand told us, “loose as a goose”, and I think all those conditions getting flung at us out on the Bay, we are just so adaptable and able to handle it. We put in the hard yards before we got here and its paid off.”

Tesch is known around the boat park as being a larger than life character and often refers to sailing as ‘a crazy sport’, so when playfully asked if Tesch is the crazy one, Fitzgibbon agrees with a laugh, “Sometimes it does helps to have a crazy partner. But we can adapt to everything, we can deal with craziness and deal with instability and come out on top.”

His sailing partner isn’t the only person Fitzgibbon acknowledges, “We have the best support crew around with coach Geoff Woolley and Tim Lowe. Tim has been with me since the silver in Beijing [2008] and he puts more in to the SKUD than anyone. If he was paid by the hour we would all be bankrupt.”

With talk moving from their own achievements, it shows the camaraderie in the Aussie camp that celebrations will be put on hold for a little bit, as Tesch explains, “It’s awesome to have the Sonar boys in the gold medal position as well, but we really got to hold it together for Matt Bugg to give him all our energy and support to get him over the line.”

Half interrupting, Fitzgibbon says, “Guess what. We are the first back to back Paralympic gold medal sailors in history.” That fact is met with the usual loud and excited whoop from Tesch.

With the gold medal sewn up, the fight is on for silver and bronze. McRoberts and Gay hold the silver medal position at present after a 2,6 day to finish on 31 points. One point back is Great Britain’s Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell who scored a 4,5.

With a 2,5, Polish world champions, Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki, have some work to do and need to put a few boats between themselves and both Canada and Great Britain if they are to make the podium. They currently have 36 points.

Here is a link to a live blog, tracking and results on the World Sailing website.

Photo © Richard Langdon / World Sailing