Bringing the Games Together

Published on August 25th, 2016

The Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games were notable as the first to be held entirely in the same city as the Olympic Games. For 17 other sports, this meant using the city’s Olympic venues. But for sailing – making its first appearance at the Paralympic Games as a demonstration sport – the temporary Olympic facilities in Savannah were deemed unsuitable.

Sailing competition would instead take place out of the Aqualand Marina on Lake Lanier, located in the foothills of the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. The location made for unpredictable sailing conditions which, in such a close fleet, translated into dramatic place changes and medals being decided in the final race.

At first New Zealand seemed to have mastered the tricky breeze best of the 15 nations taking part in the mixed crew Sonar fleet. The Kiwis were the early leaders after pulling out a first and a second in the first two races. However, consistency was lacking from the team of Christopher Wornall, Derek Stewart, Cameron Scott and Andrew Mayand and they surrendered their lead in race 4, dropping to third. Two more lacklustre results from the New Zealand boat saw them drop out of the medals into sixth place.

Armenia also got off to a strong start which saw them hold on to second place until disqualification from races 4 and 5 dropped them from the top of the table. A third and a sixth from Stasik Nazaryan, Armen Martirosyan, Garush Danielyan and Hayk Abgaryan in the final two races couldn’t redeem their medal hopes; the clock had struck midnight on what had looked like a fairytale for the four athletes from a nation only recently emerged from the former Soviet Union.

Luck went the other way for the Canadian team. David Cook, Kirk Westergaard, John McRoberts and Ken Kelly fought back from a DNS in race 3 with a win in race 4 and two seconds in five and six to put themselves firmly in contention for a medal in the final race. Their strong chance at silver could be upgraded to gold if they could beat the Great British team by four places.

The British team of Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis, Tony Downs and Ian Harrison had other ideas. Luck played no part as, in a wire-close final race, the Brits pulled out all the stops to hold the Canadian boat off. As they crossed the finish in ninth and tenth place, gold was Great Britain’s, silver for Canada. The American boat Waldo Esparza, James Leatherman, Chris Murphy and John Ross-Duggan completed the podium while fourth place Åsa Llinares (SWE) was the highest place female.

The quality and closeness of racing on Lake Lanier helped convince the International Paralympic Committee that sailing should be included in future Games and, soon after the competition concluded, the full inclusion of the sport for Sydney 2000 was announced.

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place on September 7-18 with the sailing scheduled to be raced on September 12-17 in Guanabara Bay at in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Details.

Source: World Sailing

Note: This report has been updated since published.

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