2016 Paralympic Sailing: Team USA Starts Strong

The American contingent sits in the top six in all three fleets after the first day of racing.

Dee Smith 2.4mR Sailing

Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition

USA's Dee Smith is all smiles after a bullet in the second race of the 2016 Paralympic sailing competition, held on Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Richard Langdon/World Sailing

For the US Sailing Team, the Paralympics are off to a strong start. In the 2.4mR, Dee Smith is currently in third overall, with a 7 and 1 on his scorecard. "In the first race, I didn’t get off the line very well, and I got 'pinged' a couple times, with too many tacks on the first beat," says Smith in a team statement. "The second race was very clean. I won the start, and it was a two-way battle with Helena [Lucas] from Great Britain for the next couple of legs." Smith maintained his lead all the way through the start to take a bullet in race two. It’s early days yet, but Smith predicts he will know by midweek if he has a medal chance in this highly competitive class. "I've been sailing here for more than 23 years," he says. "I did a couple of Cape Town to Rio races and a Volvo [stop] here, so I feel comfortable in Rio and I like it."

Paralympic Sailing 2.4mR

Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition

Great Britain's Helena Lucas leads the 2.4mR class after the first day of racing. "It's always good to have a good start, you know," Lucas told World Sailing. "In the few regattas leading up to this, I've not had a very good start, and then you're always playing catch up the rest of the week. So you know it's great because it gives you a good confidence boost and a good platform to carry on the rest of the week."Richard Langdon/World Sailing

Defending 2.4mR gold medallist Helena Lucas (GBR) scored 1-2 yesterday, reminding the fleet why she won the medal in 2012. In the day’s opening race Lucas picked the left side of the course from the start, and lead all the way up the first beat and maintained it through the finish, extending a 26 second lead by the second bottom mark. In the final stages of the race, Germany’s Heiko Kroeger chipped away at Lucas’ lead, reducing it to 18 seconds by the finish. Kroeger also placed second in the second race of the day, behind Smith (USA), putting him in second overall.

2008 gold medalist Maureen McKinnon and skipper Ryan Porteus placed Team USA in sixth overall in the SKUD-18 class. "Our speed was good, but we just made a few mistakes and some tactical errors," says McKinnon. Porteous said it was exciting to experience Paralympic racing for the first time. "I had some jitters, but once you start racing you don't think about it.”

2016 Paralympic Sailing Canada Skud 18

Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition

The Canadian duo, John McRoberts and Jackie Gay, won the second of two races on day one of racing in the 2016 Paralympics with just a few seconds to spare over reigning gold medallists Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, from Australia.Richard Langdon/World Sailing

Leading the double-handed class is Australia’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, 2012 gold medalists. With a bullet in race one, the Aussies looked as though they might have a perfect day with a solid start in race two, but they couldn’t get ahead of Canada’s John McRoberts and Jackie Gay, who took the win by less than four seconds in race two. "I don't think we have pressure on us but if we sail well we know we will be competitive so what happens, happens and we are just happy to be out here,” says Fitzgibbon. “We're just going to just give it a go and put pressure on and see who can handle it."

Also in the hunt are Poland’s Monika Gibes and Pitor Cichocki. The Polish team took their first world title in 2016 with a very consistent score line in Medemblik, Netherlands. With two third place finishes they have a strong start, but the Polish team will need to take some bullets to keep up with the Aussies.

Paralympic Sailing Sonar

Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition

Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris to carry the baton for Australia in the Sonar, finishing day one with a 1-2.Explaining the key to success for his team to World Sailing, Harrison said, "It was about getting a clear lane early, focusing on boat speed and then just working the shifts. It wasn't tough in that they were huge shifts but there was enough pressure and you had to be on the right side of it."Richard Langdon/World Sailing

In the three-person Sonar, Rick Doerr, Brad Kendell and Hugh Freund may sit in sixth, but they’re only one point outside of second place. In the second race of the day, the Americans were in place to finish second when they were flagged for a penalty a few lengths from the finish line, and while doing their turns were passed by the Australians, who currently lead the fleet. “Luckily, we had a good lead on the rest of the fleet at that stage, and only lost one boat,” says Freund. “Our speed was great, and we were definitely set up well all day. There was some current, but today's racing was definitely about pressure. Getting to the breeze was definitely the most important factor."

Just behind the Aussies, who lead the Sonar class going into the second day of racing, are the New Zealanders. Richard Dodson, Andrew May and Chris Sharp (NZL) won race two yesterday after an 8th place finish in the first race of the day. They’re now tied for second in the fleet with Greece and Germany, all with nine points.

Racing will continue on Tuesday, September 13, at 1300 local time. Full results, live tracking and live blogging are all hosted on the World Sailing website.