Memories from Beijing Paralympics
Published on September 8th, 2016
With three successful Paralympic sailing competitions delivered and the sport continuing to grow, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) awarded sailing a third medal event slot for Beijing 2008.
To fill between the singlehanded and triplehanded events, a two-person keelboat was specified by the then International Federation for Disabled Sailing. Enter a new sporty, clear-sailed, fully battened boat; miles away from the traditional Paralympic classes – the SKUD18.
The SKUD18 had been conceived as a ‘Skiff of Universal Design’; inherently accessible to everyone regardless of mobility or physicality. It was the first Paralympic class to specify both a severely disabled sailor and a woman in the crew.
This innovative keelboat was the brainchild of accessible sailing expert Chris Mitchell and Julian Bethwaite; the skiff master behind Olympic speed machines the 49er and 49erFX. Like it’s Olympic siblings, the SKUD18 is a thoroughbred racing machine, featuring a powerful high aspect main sail and an enormous asymmetric spinnaker – a first in Paralympic sailing.
Eleven nations competed in this exciting new class for the honour of taking home the first Paralympic skiff gold. The fleet that lined up in Qingdao was a mix of new blood – adrenalin seeking skiff sailors hungry for glory – and experienced masters.
At the 2008 Games, Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon (USA) completely dominated. Scardone was a formidable competitor, his skills honed alongside the best in the world in the 470; in the cool-headed and relentlessly positive McKinnon he had found a perfect foil. The pair, who had been sailing together less than two years, notched up five wins and three second places with their lowest place finish a third in race five.
Great results were not unexpected for Scandone and McKinnon who had demonstrated their blazing pace repeatedly in the run up to the Games, but helm Scandone’s failing health seemed to have given them extra fire. Dan Fitzgibbon and Rachel Cox (AUS) secured the second step on the podium while John McRoberts and Stacie Louttit (CAN) seized Canada’s second sailing medal of the Games.
Just months after his win in Beijing, Nick Scandone passed away from complications of his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. With his health deteriorating even before the Paralympics to the extent that further adaptations had to be made to his boat just so he could participate, it is a credit to Scandone that he performed so admirably and opitimised the values that the Paralympics stand for.
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place on September 7-18 with the sailing scheduled to be raced on September 12-17 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Competition will be held in three events: 2.4 Norlin OD (singlehanded), SKUD18 (doublehanded), and Sonar (triplehanded).
Source: World Sailing