German 2.4 Metre sailor Heiko KROGER lines up as one of the favourites for medals in the single-person keelboat event at the 2008 Paralympic Sailing Competition in Qingdao.
(GER) stands beside his new 2.4 Metre and recounts the sailing history of a multiple time world champion. KROGER sailed Optimist dinghies as a child, raced Lasers for 19 years and crewed on Solings and other three-man keelboats.
"I was born without a forearm, but never thought of it as a disability. I learned to sail and race just like everybody else,"
said KROGER. KROGER won the 2001 Open 2.4 Metre World Championship and has been fourth in the open world championships three times.
He has competed in the IFDS 2.4 Metre world championships eight times and has won six times and been second twice. He also won the gold in Sydney and was 4th in Athens.
With results like that, it is no surprise that KROGER has joined Lars GRAEL
(BRA) and some of the other members of the Argo Challenge, an America's Cup challenge team that includes several disabled athletes.
"I sailed on a 40-foot racer-cruiser with a mostly Italian crew in Lovorno in 2006. The invited me to sail with them again last year, but it conflicted with the IFDS World Championships in Rochester. They asked me to sail with them in the Rolex Maxi Cup that is taking place this week, but it was just too close to the Paralympics,"
explained KROGER about the effort to show that disabled sailors can compete on an even playing field in sailing's most publicized and long-standing international competition.
"It's not easy to compete with an all disabled crew. The next challenge will be to sail on a course. It requires strength and coordination to sail those boats. With 75% or all of the team being disabled, the race is over before it has begun because we are the winners. Everybody will be looking at us. It's like Sosholosa. They were the rookie team in the last America's Cup challenge series and everybody was curious about them. The America's Cup has lost face over the past year and a half. They need good press if they want to come back to a higher level."
The Argo Challenge is seeking sponsors and prospects to join the team. "There are many strong guys on the team. They are not just sailors. There are cyclists and hammer throwers. It is a great opportunity for sponsors, especially those that work with technology. For instance, we may have crew that have wheelchairs and prostheses that need to be specially designed and strong. It is exciting,"
KROGER will be keeping an eye on the Argo Challenge team's performance in Sardinia while he sizes up his competition in Qingdao.
He would like to add a gold to this year's second place finishes at the Semaine Olympique Francaise and Kiel Week regattas.