Australian Medal Rush

The Sailing Team from Down Under goes three for three at the Rio Paralympics.

paralympics

Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition

Australia’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch won gold in the SKUD-18 at the Paralympic Games in Rio, becoming the first-ever team to win back-to-back gold medals in a Paralympic sailing class.World Sailing/Richard Langdon

When a team gets advice from America’s Cup victor John Bertrand, it’s no surprise that it ends up with a win. For Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, Australia’s SKUD-18 team, becoming the only back-to-back Paralympic sailing gold medalists in history was as simple as following Bertrand’s charge to them: “Keep it loose as a goose.”

“We can adapt to everything. We can deal with craziness and deal with instability and come out on top,” says Fitzgibbon. Their flexibility paid off when, over five days of racing, Rio de Janeiro threw everything at the Paralympians, from currents to cold fronts. The Aussies never scored higher than second. Fitzgibbon and Tesch had enough of a margin to win the gold medal with two races to spare, and wrapped up the week with second place in the medal race. Canada’s John McRoberts and Jackie Gay won silver, and Great Britain’s Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell rounded out the podium.

The Australian Sonar team, Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris, showed the same consistency and won gold as well, before the medal race.

“We have the best work ethic, culture and support,” says Harrison of the Australian Sailing Team. “Everything going on in the background is all about achieving success. That’s what we felt over the years, and that’s why we are here [on the podium] today, without a doubt.”

They finished 22 points ahead of the American silver medalists, Rick Doerr, Hugh Freund and Brad Kendell, who struggled in the final day of preliminary racing but recovered by winning the medal race.

In the 2.4-Meter, though he was mathematically out of the running for the top spot, Matt Bugg, of Australia, won silver with a bullet in the medal race. Finishing fourth in the final race, France’s Damien Seguin won gold.

Seguin, born without a left hand, has made it his life’s mission to support those with disabilities. His foundation, Des Pieds et des Mains (“The Feet and the Hands”), focuses on supporting adaptive-sailing programs and developing accessible options for young sailors with disabilities. As inspiration for the sailors he supports, Seguin has already identified his next challenge now that sailing has been cut from the next Paralympics in Tokyo: He plans to be the first Vendée Globe skipper with a disability, aiming for the 2020 edition.