USA Team preparing for Para World Sailing Championships
Published on November 25th, 2015
US Sailing Team Sperry adaptive athletes have arrived in Melbourne, Australia for Paralympic sailing’s premier annual event, the Para World Sailing Championships. In addition to being a key test of skill against the world’s top medal contenders, the event will also serve as part of the Rio 2016 U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team selection system for the Sonar and SKUD-18, two of the three classes utilized at the Paralympic Games.
“As the sailors arrive in Melbourne for this World Championship, the atmosphere is all business,” said Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.), US Sailing Team Sperry Coach and Chair of the Para World Sailing Committee, the leadership body of the sport. “Each athlete is focused, equipment is being meticulously prepared, and there is a heightened sense of importance attached to this event. All of the sailors are looking forward to the conditions here in Melbourne with a sense of excitement. There’s a lot at stake.”
More Information on the Rio 2016 US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Selection System: click here
In the two-person SKUD-18 class, there are two US boats set to compete for Paralympic selection. First-time campaigner Ryan Porteous (San Diego, Calif.) and Beijing 2008 SKUD-18 gold medalist Maureen McKinnon (Marblehead, Mass.) have been together for just over a year, but have already shown themselves to be a formidable combination. They will compete against Sarah Everhart-Skeels (Tiverton, R.I.) and Cindy Walker (Middletown, R.I.), who in addition to being a highly competitive team, are currently the only all-female SKUD-18 team in the world. No all-female team has ever won Paralympic selection, and so Everhart-Skeels and Walker will look to make history. “Cindy and I are sort of tired of training,” said Everhart-Skeels, who works as a professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I. “We feel quite ready to head into our first Rio 2016 selection event!”
As is the case for all athletes vying for possible Olympic and Paralympic selection, preparation for the mental strain of competition is just as important as ensuring physical readiness. “We’ve had to learn the importance of shutting out all of the ‘noise’ going on around us, including the unfortunate situation of sailing being eliminated from the 2020 Paralympic Games,” said Everhart-Skeels. “Instead, we have tried our best to stay focused on only the things we can do for ourselves, focusing our time and energy on the things over which we have some control.”
In the Sonar class, there are two American teams competing in Melbourne. The veteran boat is comprised of Beijing 2008 Paralympian and Disabled Sailing World Champion Ricky Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine). Doerr, Kendell and Freund are returning for their second consecutive Paralympic selection event as a team, though Doerr has been active in adaptive sailing for the past 17 years and is the longest-tenured athlete on the national team. Also competing for selection is the recently-formed but highly experienced team of Andrew Fisher (Greenwich, Conn.) Daniel Evans (Miami, Fla.) and Tom Brown (Northeast Harbor, Maine). Fisher is a veteran competitor in many keelboat classes, including the J/70 and Swan 42, but this will be his first attempt at Paralympic selection. Brown is a silver (Athens 2004) and bronze (Sydney 2000) Paralympic medalist in the 2.4mR class, and a three-time Paralympian. Evans is an experienced 2.4mR athlete who recently switched to the Sonar.
In the Sonar class, there is an additional challenge facing the two contending American teams vying for for Paralympic Team selection. While the United States has qualified as a country for Rio 2016 in the single-person 2.4mR and two-person SKUD-18 classes, it has yet to qualify in the three-person Sonar.
“For every team here who belongs to a country that has yet to qualify for Rio, including ours, securing a berth for the Games is the main objective,” said Freund. “Our circumstance has a bit more gravity as this is also the first half of our US selection for the games and the opportunity to qualify as the top Sonar team for 2016 before the Paralympic Team is decided. With more weight given to the outcome of this one event than any we have sailed together in seven years, it is the closest we can come to replicating the kind of high-pressure environment we’ll encounter at the Paralympics. Our focus will be on maintaining our routine on and off the water so we arrive at the starting line ready to do battle for 70 minutes at a time.”
In the one-person 2.4mR class, the American contingent features Dee Smith (Annapolis, Md.), who is coming off an impressive 7th place overall finish at the 2.4mR Open World Championship in August. Also competing will be experienced campaigner and 2.4mR Class Secretary Tim Ripley (Randolph, N.J.). Smith is a six-time World Champion in various classes, and a veteran America’s Cup and Maxi sailor. While Smith is a newcomer to the Paralympic 2.4mR, having only started his campaign last spring, he has been quick to get up to speed. American 2.4mR sailors are not using the Worlds in Melbourne as a Rio 2016 selection event, but the regatta remains a valuable opportunity to go up against the top sailors in the class.
For the US Sailing Team Sperry athletes assembled in Melbourne, there is nothing left to do but race. “All of our sailors have been training hard this summer and fall,” said Alison. “Now we have a chance to see where we stack up against the competition. I am confident that the work we have been doing since the spring events has been worthwhile, and the confidence of our athletes is high going into this championship.”
Racing at the 2015 Para World Sailing Championships will run from November 28 to December 3.
All athlete and coach nominations to the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team are subject to the approval of U.S. Paralympics.
Source: US Sailing Team