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16 May 2008, 01:23 pm
Qingdao Shows Its Paralympic Credentials
The SKUD18 fleet in action on Fushan Bay
The Brits lead the way in Qingdao with two gold medals

IFDS Qingdao International Regatta 2008
Qingdao, China

Great Britain won two gold medals with the third going to France as the IFDS Qingdao International Regatta concluded with another great day of racing at the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Centre.
The regatta was a perfect opportunity for sailors and organizers to test the Qingdao conditions and facilities ahead of the 2008 Paralympic Sailing Competition, which will takes place from 8-13 September. At the Closing Ceremony held at the Qingdao Olympic Village on Thursday evening, IFDS Technical Delegate Phil VARDY said the regatta had been a great success.

"Over the past few days, the top athletes from 16 countries competed on Fushan Bay and have given us wonderful and unforgettable impressions in the sailing events," said VARDY. "As the largest IFDS International Regatta in terms of scale in Asia, this regatta gave us a comprehensive test of competition organizing procedures, venue and the city's accessible facilities, Qingdao Paralympic Village Operations, Services, Security and City Operations etc. before the Paralympic Sailing Competition. It has brought us valuable experience and laid a solid foundation for the coming Paralympic Sailing Competition."

Conditions in Qingdao varied significantly over the five days of racing, giving the 33 crews competing over the three Paralympic events a real test of their full range of sailing skills. The strong current was a consistent factor during the week, whilst the wind varied from moderate to strong breezes of up to 20 knots at the start of the week to lighter conditions for the final two days.

The surprise package of the week was the British team of Niki BIRRELL and Alexandra RICKHAM in the two person keelboat SKUD18 fleet. The pair only joined forces in January, but have made rapid progress since, culminating in victory amongst the nine-strong fleet in Qingdao. A bullet in the final race secured the title, as their closest rivals Scott WHITMAN and Julia DORSETT (USA) were scored OCS for crossing the starting line early. Despite that mistake the American crew had a sufficient points' margin to hold on to second place, with Australians Dan FITZGIBBON and Rachael COX completing the podium.

A delighted RICKHAM commented, "This is just the third regatta we've done, and all the lessons we've learned have paid off. It's been a difficult week with the conditions we've had, but we've dealt with it well, which is a sign of how much we've improved."

"Everybody is so excited to have us here," she added. "People have come out to watch us on the wall every day, drumming and cheering, and as a team we've really been able to feed off that."

The second British gold came in the three-person keelboat Sonar event, courtesy of the experienced trio of John ROBERTSON, Stephen THOMAS and Hannah STODEL. Despite carrying a high score throughout most of the regatta, after they were disqualified from race 3, the British trio stayed cool under pressure to take victory with a six-point winning margin. The French team of Bruno JOURDREN, Hervé LARHANT and Nicolas VIMONT VICARY endured a nightmare start to the regatta with a DSQ and OCS in the first two races, but came back strongly to claim second place overall. 2004 Paralympic gold medallists Dror COHEN, Arnon EFRATI and Benny VEXTER (ISR) completed the podium.

The British team also recently won at the Semaine Olympic Française in Hyères, but ROBERTSON explained that victory in Qingdao was particularly sweet. "It's pretty special being here in the Paralympic venue, and staying in the Olympic Village - it's a full dress rehearsal for the Games so we're really pleased to have done well, and we've learned a lot by being here," he said.

Another Hyères winner, Damien SEGUIN (FRA) also triumphed in the one person keelboat 2.4 Metre fleet. The gold medallist from the Athens Paralympic Games and reigning IFDS World Champion scored five bullets during the nine-race series to finish with a five-point victory margin. Canada's Paul TINGLEY took second overall, with Germany's Heiko KRÖGER a distant third.

Of the three competing Chinese crews, Hailiang JIA and Xiujuan YANG put in the best performance with a fifth place finish in the SKUD18.

For more on the Paralympic Games go to www.sailing.org/paralympics.

IFDS Qingdao International Regatta - www.2008ifdsqdregatta.com
ISAF Disabled Sailing microsite - www.sailing.org/disabled.

ISAF (source: RYA/Qingdaonews.com)
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