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The first round of qualifiers for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will emerge from the water following the World Sailing Championships in Halifax, Canada. Beginning Tuesday (19 August), the competition runs until 24 August and will see 39 sailors and 20 boats qualify for the first Paralympic Games ever to be held in South America. In total, 124 sailors from 24 countries will compete for their place in the 2.4 mR, SKUD 18 and Sonar classes.
Gold medallist in the 2.4 mR class at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Britain’s Helena Lucas is anxious to put the frustration of the 2013 World Championships behind her. Leading the field right up to the last regatta, boat problems forced her to abandon the race, leaving her back in ninth place. With 48 boats registered in this class, Lucas knows that she once again faces some stiff competition.
“I’m expecting a tough event. All the top guys will be there and obviously it is the first selection regatta to qualify your country for a place at the Paralympic Games in Rio, so that’s the priority and it would mean a great deal to get that box ticked. It’s also a great chance for me to check in against the rest of the 2.4mR fleet and see how I compare with them two years out from the Games,” she said.
Among the highlights in the SKUD 18 class is the Australian pairing of Liesl Tesch and Daniel Fitzgibbon. Gold medallists at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the duo returns to the international arena after a two year absence looking to guarantee Australia’s place at the Rio 2016 Games.
“It will be our first international competition since we won gold at the London Games and we are highly motivated to take on the best sailors in the world once more. We want to take the gold on home turf at the 2015 World Championship in Melbourne, but qualifying for Rio 2016 this year would be very important,” said Liesl, admitting that Canada, Italy and Great Britain will provide stiff competition in their class.
In the Sonar event, Norwegian trio Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Marie Solberg and Per Eugen Kristiansen, bronze winners at the London 2012 Games, also have their sights set on guaranteeing Norway’s place at the 2016 Paralympics.
“We realise that it’s important to qualify as soon as possible and have our place guaranteed in case we encounter problems in the next round of qualifiers. If we don’t, we know we will have another chance, but not managing a top-seven finish now doesn’t bode well for our ambitions for Rio,” said Wang-Hansen, who carried the Norwegian team’s flag at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The first eight boats in the single-crew 2.4 mR class, the top five two-person, mixed-crew SKUD18 boats and the top seven triple-crewed Sonar boats will all be awarded places at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. No country can qualify more than once per class, however, and it will be their respective Paralympic committees that finally select the athletes that will take those berths in two years’ time.
Another 35 sailors and 18 boats will have the opportunity to qualify for Rio 2016 at the 2015 World Championships in Australia. As host nation, Brazil is automatically allocated a place in each class.