The British Paralympic Association yesterday announced the first British athletes to be selected for the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.
They are John ROBERTSON, Hannah STODEL and Stephen THOMAS, who will represent Great Britain in the Three-person Keelboat - Sonar.
Skipper Robertson, 32, has sailed with Stodel for four years and Thomas joined the crew a year ago. The trio has already had considerable success, winning a bronze medal at the World Sailing Championships in Athens last September. They have just returned from a month's training in Florida.
Robertson believes the crew has a good chance of winning a medal at Athens. "We went to Florida to work on our speed and tactics, and we've achieved everything we set out to,"
"We've already put in a lot of graft and we will be well prepared when we get to Athens,"
he added. "By the time the Games come around we'll be on fire."
Eighteen-year-old Hannah Stodel becomes the first British woman selected to sail at a Paralympic Games. Stodel, sailed with Robertson in a Sonar crew that finished ninth at the 2002 IFDS World Championship. She said: "I'm pretty pleased we've made it. It has been quite a lot of hard work, but it has all been worthwhile"
"I'm confident we will do well in Athens,"
she added. "If you look at the training and the performances we've been putting in, we should really be looking to be in the medal zone."
Stephen Thomas, 27, is the newest recruit to the partnership and only took up sailing a year ago, fitting straight into the crew. He is also a keen sledge hockey player.
Phil LANE, Chief Executive of the British Paralympic Association, said. "I'd like to congratulate John, Hannah and Stephen on their selection for Athens and wish them good luck for their preparations for the Paralympics and for the Games themselves."
Stephen PARK, RYA Olympic Manager, commented. "Over the last year John, Hannah and Stephen have raised their game significantly and have taken Paralympic Sonar sailing in the UK to a new level. Their initial efforts have been rewarded with Paralympic selection and I am confident that, with continued application, they will be firmly in the medal zone in Athens this September."
Robertson's crew finished 11 at the Rolex Miami OCR in January. The crew dropped down the leader board from fifth when Robertson missed the last day of racing through illness.
In February Robertson skippered the crew to fifth at the World Sonar Championship in Miami - an able-bodied event with the Sonar boats in a different configuration and with a crew of four. They were the second highest Paralympic crew taking part in the competition.
The Sonar class at the Paralympics uses a wide and heavily-ballasted 23ft keelboat, sailed by a crew of three.
The final sailing berth for the British squad for the Athens 2004 Paralympics is in the single-handed 2.4mR class. The contest to win that place is still wide open.