The Good, the Bad and the Agonizing!
By Jackie Gay
(All photographs courtesy of IFDS)
Before you read this report I must lay my cards on the table:
• John McRoberts is my lovely husband. Along with his crew Stacie Louttit he was selected to represent Canada as skipper in the two-person Skud-18 Class (this explains any perceived bias in reporting…)
• I am a Brit newly emigrated to Canada who used to sail for the British Paralympic team (although I now sail for Canada). Weymouth, the venue for the sailing, was my training base back then and has been a home away from home for the last three years whilst John has been training.
• It is much harder to watch sailing that it is to race!
So… Weymouth, harbour of dreams ever since the London 2012 Olympics were announced way back in 2005. I distinctly remember my first regatta there; black water, black sky, a howling gale. It can blow hard at Weymouth, and everyone had been preparing for heavy air. During the Olympics, they got it. However by the time the Paralympics came round Aeolus and Co. had decided to go all light, shifty and fluky (in fact on the last day of racing the wind Gods didn’t show up at all). No matter – sailors know that they must prepare for all conditions and John and Stacie were ready for anything. They knew that the competition would be extremely tight at the top of the Skud class, and that essentially the four top countries: the USA, Canada, Great Britain and Australia, would be jostling for those precious spots on the podium. The whole Canadian team – John & Stacie plus Paul Tingley in the single-person 2.4mR class and Bruce Millar’s Sonar team – had settled into the athlete’s village, prepped their boats, travelled up to London for the opening ceremonies and zoned into competition mode. Families and spectators were not allowed into the venue because of security, but we were fortunate that American friends had rented what Brits call a flat (and North Americans a condo), with an excellent view of the racing area. This, and Twitter, were the only ways we had to keep up with the racing, which was frustrating, especially as in previous events we’d had full access, big screen, tracking and live radio reports.
These aforementioned Americans were also one of John’s biggest rivals on the water – which made for some interesting commentating.
Me – through binoculars – ‘John’s lining up for the pin [end of the start line]’
Tim – husband of US rival, frantically scanning the line – ‘Where’s Jen?’
Me – ‘I can’t see her but the flag is down’
Tim – ‘She’s gone right!’
Me – ‘John’s gone left!’
Both (thinks) ‘which way is favored…?’
On the first day the Brits and Australians dominated the 12 boat fleet, with Canada and the USA very close behind. Other teams with pace were Italy and Israel, which mixed up the odd race but didn’t change any standings. However on the second day the US team scored two bullets (first place) pulling them up to equal points with the leaders, and making life very difficult for our Canadians. Despite fast, smart sailing all week and never dropping below 4th (except in one race when they had equipment issues) John & Stacie were unable to catch the leaders on points.
So after four long hard days of racing – and nail-biting tension on our balcony as we swopped binoculars, waited anxiously for the ‘over early’ flag on the committee boat to come down (it didn’t, a big OUCH for our team), and tried to explain to visitors not so familiar with sailing that no, their guy wasn’t in the lead. ‘It’s just the angles, wait until you see boats cross,’ Tim and I repeated, over and over again. John and Stacie finished the regatta in 4th place – a painful place for any competitor. However they sailed hard and fast all week and the eventual medalists always had to be thinking ‘where’s Canada?’ (no jokes about the great white north, please…)
The photograph below shows just how close the racing was, with CAN inches in front of GBR in the first picture, and head of eventual silver medalists USA in the second.
The Skud 18 competition was won by the exceptionally strong Australian team Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch. Congratulations Aussies!
In the other paralympic classes, Halifax’s Paul Tingley came 5th in the 2.4mR class and the Victoria-based Sonar team skippered by Bruce Millar came 10th.
In fact, John & Stacie’s 4th place is the highest result of any Canadian sailors (both Olympic and Paralympic) in the London 2012 competition.
So a GREAT BIG CONGRATULATIONS TO THE TEAM!
We are very proud of your efforts and achievements.
We finished off our visit to England with a trip up to London where John got to stay in the athletes village, we watched Canada win the Gold in wheelchair basketball and then attended the spectacular closing ceremony, a fitting end to a glorious summer of sport and four years of dedication and hard work.
Rio here we come!
The signs at Stratford Tube station (the closest station to the Olympic Park) had been changed when we left the closing ceremony!